While Henrico County Public Schools has elected for a fully virtual start to the 2020-2021 school year, other school districts across the nation have taken different approaches to getting students back in classrooms, each with varying levels of success.
In Florida, Texas, Iowa, and Arkansas, the state governments have issued orders requiring that in-person public school instruction be provided at least part-time. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, only 0.21% of the over one million students who returned to in-person instruction have contracted coronavirus after the first two weeks of school. These low numbers are accredited to strict social distaning guidelines and limited exposure among students.
However, most school districts in these states gave the choice to parents, who widely elected to begin the year virtually. Yet, some of these communities that did not begin in-person instruction at the beginning of the year are now planning early-October return dates.
On the other hand, some state governments have issued closures requiring that certain school districts in areas where the disease is particularly widespread remain closed. These states include Oregon, California, New Mexico, Hawaii, and West Virginia. Similarly, all schools in Washington, D.C. only offer online learning.
A majority of states have left the decision up to individual school districts and local health authorities. Within those states, many districts have introduced hybrid models with both in-person and remote learning. As of mid-September, most schools operating under hybrid plans have not reported alarmingly high case numbers. New York City, once the leading city for coronavirus in the United States, is now in the process of planning a hybrid return to school for their students.
Conversely, many school districts that voluntarily chose to return to full time in-person instruction are now facing outbreaks. In Connecticut, where a majority of the state’s districts returned to school, at least 12 schools have been forced to close after students and teachers tested positive. Similarly, in Georgia, one school was forced to close after over 900 students and faculty members were exposed to the virus.
Within Virginia, 10 school districts are fully in-person, 25 are partially in-person, 29 are hybrid, and 68 are fully remote. In central Virginia, Hanover County and Prince George County are the only districts currently operating fully in-person. Additionally, Amelia County is partially in-person and Dinwiddie, Powhatan, and Louisa are hybrid.
Neighboring Henrico, Goochland County is currently in the process of creating a proposal for a return to in-person learning that is to be announced at the school board meeting on October 13.
What this all means for Henrico County Public Schools is debatable. While the evidence may support that now is not the time for a fully in-person return to school, the success of hybrid learning models is encouraging. Time will tell whether these hybrid models continue to work and whether students can anticipate returning to Freeman High School.