Prince William County students and teachers won't likely face an extended school year or any kind of mandatory summer school, Prince William County School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef said Thursday.
Rather, Lateef said he expects Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday will encourage – but not require – Virginia schools to offer summer school or a “fifth quarter” to students who are struggling because of remote learning this year.
“I don’t think any of us have talked about mandating a longer school year. That has not been discussed,” Lateef said in an interview Thursday, Feb. 4.
But Lateef said the governor could discuss “a more robust” summer school program than is traditionally offered to Virginia students, or perhaps free summer school for students who need the extra support.
Lateef noted that Prince William County schools typically offer summer school every year, but require all but the lowest-income students to pay for it. A lower-cost or free summer school could be possible using federal CARES act money or other extra help from the state, Lateef said.
“I would love to see programs this summer and next summer to address everyone’s concerns about loss of learning,” Lateef said.
Northam is scheduled to hold an press conference at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 5, to talk about plans for helping Virginia’s schools and schoolchildren deal with a school year mostly lost to in-person instruction because of the ongoing pandemic.
During an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday, Northam talked about “extend[ing] classrooms this summer” but gave few other details.
“We want to extend our classrooms this summer, to allow our children to catch up, so that everybody will be ready in the fall,” Northam said.
Northam is expected to also stress during his press conference the need for students to return to schools for in-person instruction safely and as soon as possible and to call on school divisions still offering only remote instruction to offer in-person opportunities over the summer, according to a WTOP report.
Lateef said he did not know exactly what Northam would discuss but said he expects to hear some “big stuff” from the governor.
“And by big stuff, I mean more money,” Lateef said, as well as more concrete calls for returning students to school buildings.
Prince William County schools is already considering using about $39 million it expects to receive from the latest federal COVID-19 relief bill to provide extra tutoring and remediation to students during the school year – perhaps on Mondays, when students do not currently have classes, and on Saturdays, Superintendent Steven Walts said during the Wednesday, Feb. 3 school board meeting.
Walts also said the school division is considering using some of the money to hire additional teaching assistants for the lower grades and to purchase additional PPE or personal protective gear for teachers, staff and students.
The superintendent also mentioned using some of the money to fund capital projects that were scuttled last spring to deal with pandemic-related budget cuts.
About 13,500 Prince William County students are currently attending school in person at least two days a week on a hybrid schedule. In-person instruction is available so far to special education students, English language learners and students in pre-K through third grades.
The school division is planning to allow students in fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth grades to return to schools on a hybrid schedule as soon as later this month with the remaining grades possibly coming back in early March.
The school board will revisit that plan on Wednesday, Feb. 17, and may or may not take another vote, Lateef said Thursday.
Clarification: This report has been updated to note that the school board will revisit the school division's return to school plans on Feb. 17 but may or may not take another vote, according to School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef.
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