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With constantly changing numbers, leaders for Pittsylvania County Schools faced with 'quite daunting' task of planning for classes
Pittsylvania County Schools

With constantly changing numbers, leaders for Pittsylvania County Schools faced with 'quite daunting' task of planning for classes

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Students in Pittsylvania County Schools have two options this year: attend in-person classes some days and learn remotely on the others, or learn completely from home, either through take-home packets or virtual options.

With the division’s recommended deadline for deciding passing on Friday, principals and division administration are still dealing with constantly changing numbers.

“Every couple hours something changes," said Eric Moon, principal of Gretna Middle School, where so far 17% of students have indicated that they will opt for remote learning.

By the percentages

The exact number of students in the county who have chosen remote only learning so far is not known due to inconsistencies in the data gathered, but the percent of students who have chosen that option varies between individual schools.

School Remote only learning
Mount Airy Elementary 30%
Union Hall Elementary 28%
Gretna High 28%
Dan River Middle 27%
Kentuck Elemtnary 27%
Chatham Middle 25%
Southside Elementary 25%
Dan River High 25%
Gretna Elementary 24%
Twin Springs Elementary 23%
Tunstall Middle 20%
Chatham Elementary 20%
Gretna Middle 17%
Tunstall High 17%
Stony Mill Elementary 15%
Chatham High 8%
Brosville Elementary not provided
Hurt Elementary not provided

The exact number of students in the division who have chosen remote only learning so far is not known due to inconsistencies in the data gathered by Superintendent Mark Jones and obtained by the Register & Bee, but the percent of students who have chosen that option varies between individual schools. For instance, on the low end only 8% of students at Chatham High School have indicated that they will utilize remote only learning. On the high end, 30% of students at Mount Airy Elementary have said they wish to proceed with all remote learning.

“To me, [the number of students opting for in-person instruction] tells me that parents are ready for the children to get back to school,” Jones said.

Jones said some of the percentages are of total share of the student population, while others only show the percent of students who have made a decision. Principals are depending on this data to coordinate classroom setups and bus routes, so dealing with incomplete and changing data can present challenges.

“The planning involved is quite daunting,” said Wanda Carter, principal of Chatham High.

Principals say they’ve been calling students who haven't decided one way or the other yet, but they simply haven’t been able to get in touch with some families while others have indicated they haven’t made a decision.

With the reopening plan in place for the school division, grades K-three, along with special education and English learners, will attend classes four days a week, while grades four-12 will attend in-person classes two days a week. No in-person instruction will occur on Wednesday, which is for deep cleanings of the facilities and teacher planning and check-ins. Students will be responsible for learning at home during their days off.

The division had asked families to make a decision on whether they wish to choose in-person instruction or complete remote learning by Friday July 31, but many schools are still waiting to hear from significant numbers of students. Classes are slated to begin August 20.

The number of students who have not yet made a decision fluctuates significantly between schools. For instance, roughly 100 out of 450 students at Gretna Middle School still have not indicated one way or the other, Principal Eric Moon told the Register & Bee on Thursday. At Chatham Elementary, just 25 hadn't decided as of Thursday, said principal Wanda Carter.

Jones did not have actual numbers of students who have not yet decided on a division basis, and many principals did not respond to requests for comment.

For those students who have not informed their schools how they wish to begin the school year, principals are assuming that they will be attending in-person classes and riding the bus for planning purposes. According to guidelines from the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education, students will be required to maintain 6 feet of distance in classrooms and 3 feet on school buses. Anytime students or staff go within 6 feet of another person, including on school buses, they will be required to wear a mask.

“If I haven’t heard from you at this point… I’m just going to assume that you must be coming to school and riding the bus," Carter said.

With the current numbers of students who have opted for remote learning vs. in-person instruction, each school has the capacity to keep students distanced, Jones said. Principals and staff have measured out classrooms to determine how many students can fit in each, and some have even utilized resource rooms — such as art or music classrooms — to take in more students.

“We’re going to use a scheduling model that will utilize our resource teachers to accommodate the overflow of students on a rotational basis," he said.

Mount Airy Elementary, the facility with the smallest enrollment in the division, has enough space that it could accommodate every student for in-person learning by dividing some classrooms, said Principal Pamela Fields. Bus routes shouldn't be an issue either, she said, because there are many siblings who will be allowed to sit together, as allowed by Virginia Department of Education guidelines.

"Additional scheduling for transition periods (arrival, dismissal, lunch, etc.) has been created to ensure smooth and safe transitions for students and staff," Fields wrote in an email.

Both division administrators and principals have said students will be allowed to switch between remote learning and the hybrid model as long as there is enough space in classrooms and buses — if needed — for them to do so.

“We’re going to be fluid. If they find that they want to switch… we’re going to have that option available for them," Moon said.

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