A proposal from Henry County Schools to reopen school buildings on Aug. 10 and allow students back in the classroom on a limited basis awaits review from the state.
The Henry County School Board on Thursday approved a 2020-21 reopening plan that would place students on a staggered schedule, with a mix of in-person and online learning. Most students would attend two days of in-person classes and three days of remote instruction each week.
Or, if parents are uncomfortable sending their children to school, they can choose to do 100% distance learning, Superintendent Sandy Strayer told the board.
Many Virginia schools are considering similar hybrid models of instruction, following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement on June 9 that they may gradually resume in-person teaching. Before schools are allowed to reopen, however, the Virginia Department of Education is requiring each school district to submit a plan for returning to in-person learning while taking health precautions to minimize the risk of COVID-19.
Districts must address how they plan to make up for any loss in a student's learning that resulted from schools closing in mid-March. Also they must have a contingency plan for moving quickly to remote learning if the public health situation worsens.
To help schools with the planning process, VDOE recently issued a 135-page guide called “Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020” that includes recommendations on just about every aspect of resuming school operations.
Schools will be expected to maintain social distancing of 6 feet between students whenever possible, including on school buses.
Henry County Schools’ plan is to limit the number of students attending school each day to 50% capacity, so they have enough room to spread out. Students will split into two cohorts (A and B) and attend in-person classes on different days, Monday through Thursday. Siblings will be kept on the same daily schedule, Strayer said.
Administrators are also exploring how to accommodate certain groups of students who may need to attend school physically more than twice a week, she said. However, it all comes down to classroom space.
“We are looking at the idea of having certain students attend each day,” Strayer said, such as special education students, English language learners and younger children. “That all depends on if we can meet our distancing requirements.”
For remote schoolwork, all students in preschool through seniors will get an iPad or other device to take home. The district is working on several options to help families who have no internet access (or slow service), Strayer said. Students can check out mi-fis (a device that creates a mobile WiFi hot spot) to use at home, and free WiFi will be set up in all county school parking lots.
Health precautions in the schools will include daily symptom checks for staff and students, enhanced cleaning and sanitation, frequent hand-washing, and encouraging people to wear face masks when appropriate, board documents show.
The full reopening plan will be shared with parents and the public after it is finalized by VDOE.
Equity and education
Also on Thursday, the school board unanimously approved a resolution in support of racial equity.
The resolution states that board members and school staff are "saddened and outraged by recent events that demonstrate the prejudice and injustice that persists in our country."
While the specific "recent events" are not identified in the statement, its adoption comes weeks after the killing of George Floyd in police custody sparked widespread protests against systemic racism.
"Each of us, individually and collectively, is responsible for creating and nurturing an anti-racist learning environment where every child is respected and valued for who they are, regardless of their skin color. We must actively acknowledge, address and prevent racial bias that occurs as a result of division policies, practices and actions," the resolution states.
After reconvening from closed session, the school board approved a current school principal to fill a Central Office position and named a new Bassett High School basketball coach.
Matthew Woods was named director of student support services. Woods, who currently serves as principal of Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, previously taught at Bassett High School and served students in Georgia and in Roanoke City Public Schools as a professor and administrator.
“I am excited and honored to support the administrators, teachers, students, and families of Henry County in this capacity," he stated in a release from the school system. "Ensuring student safety and helping each of them achieve their full potential is my goal and I am eager to work together with families to help students exceed their goals for the future.”
“Mr. Woods’ passion for supporting each student’s safety and social emotional needs will be an essential asset in his new role. I am pleased to have him collaborate with the school community to ensure that every student has the foundation they need for success,” Strayer said in the release.
A. DeMario Mattox was named head boys’ basketball coach at Bassett High School. Mattox, who has served as an advisor and instructor in the PHCC Upward Bound program since 2011, has also served students as a coach and assistant coach in Virginia and North Carolina since 2012.
In a news release, Mattox said he is "honored and excited" to be the next head coach.
“My goal for this program is to focus on a few key concepts; character development, skill development, time, encouragement, dedication, and teamwork. My hope is to help mold these young men into bright, brave and respectful individuals on and off the court and to build a program that focuses on skill development which will allow my players to compete at the highest level," Mattox said.
"The encouragement, dedication and time these young men will put in will help build a solid teamwork foundation that will create success at an optimal level.”
Bassett Principal Tiffiny Gravely stated in the release, “I’m excited to welcome Mr. Mattox to our Bengal family. I’m impressed with Mr. Mattox’s enthusiasm and passion for the game of basketball. Even more impressive is his aspiration to build character and leadership in our student-athletes. It’s important to me that we have a coach who cares about our players’ moral development and emotional intelligence just as much as their athletic performance.
"I look forward to working with Mr. Mattox as he builds character, leadership, and sportsmanship in our players while teaching them the fundamentals of basketball," she continued. "I’m confident that he will have a positive impact on our players and mold them into respectable young men.”
Kim Barto Meeks is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at 276-638-8801.