On October 22, the Henrico County School Board released its decision to continue virtual learning through the second quarter for middle and high school students and increase in-person learning opportunities for elementary school students.
The School Board’s plan for the second quarter prioritizes elementary school students, who will begin their gradual return to classrooms on Nov. 30. Secondary school students will begin their return to in-person learning at the beginning of the second semester, with students in grades six and nine returning on Feb. 1 and 2, closely followed by the return of all other grade levels on Feb 4.
In this plan, students of all grade levels can choose to maintain a completely virtual schedule rather than returning to in-person learning.
While making this decision, the School Board received input from the HCPS Health Committee regarding the risks associated with in-person learning and the current coronavirus levels in Henrico County. The HCPS Health Committee referenced three “core indicators” of disease transmission in their recommendations, including total number of cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, percentage of coronavirus tests that were positive over the past two weeks, and schools’ ability to combat the virus.
Freshman Ryland Ward is “relieved that we won’t be returning for the second nine weeks” due to the “spike we’ve seen in cases and the upcoming flu season.” For Ryland, online learning “has been challenging at times” as “looking at a screen all day is really tiring.”
Although Ryland “want[s] to return to school and see all [her] friends,” Ryland knows “that when we return, it will not look like the school I’ve always known.” The School Board’s plan for future in-person learning includes social distancing guidelines for hallways and classrooms in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The HCPS Health Committee recommended that Henrico County schools restructure classroom seating to maintain six-foot distancing, create one-way traffic flow in hallways, and maintain cohort groups in classrooms as much as possible. In middle and high schools, students will be assigned to specific lunch pods to reduce the spread of the virus.
Senior Aleia Embodo “would prefer we go back” to in-person learning, but Aleia believes that “it’s still important for everyone to be safe and healthy” during the pandemic. Aleia said that the School Board’s decision to continue virtual learning during the second quarter in high schools “is the best decision that they [could have] made.”
Junior Peyton Meadows said that she is “looking forward to school reopening […], but in the grand scheme of things, I really don’t think [returning to in-person learning] is all that safe.” Due to the inherent risk of the spread of the coronavirus associated with in-person learning, many students including Peyton “may decide to keep schooling virtually for the rest of the year just to stay safe.”
Maintaining study habits and motivation throughout virtual learning has been challenging for many students during the first quarter of virtual school. Aleia, Peyton, and Ryland each said that they “learn better in-person.” Ryland said that the transition to virtual learning has “taken a toll on everyone’s mental health.” However, Ryland “think[s] there’s always going to be some risk when returning to school” and supports the School Board’s decision to continue virtual learning in high schools through the second quarter.