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From left: Prince William County Supervisor Victor Angry, D-Neabsco; Board Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large; and School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef (At Large) discuss CARES Act funding and plans for returning students to schools for in-person learning during a meeting of both boards on Oct. 13. Supervisor Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, is at the forefront, facing the three.

Prince William County schools Superintendent Steven Walts promised Tuesday that he’ll present a plan to the school board next week outlining when middle and high school students might return to school under the proposed “50% hybrid plan.” But he cautioned it would depend on local COVID-19 numbers and is subject to change.

“We will have a plan, but it will be tentative at best,” Walts said.

The comments came Tuesday, Oct. 13, during the first joint meeting of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and School Board since the pandemic hit in March.

During the gathering, held at the school division’s Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center, the supervisors unanimously approved directing another $15.9 million in federal CARES Act funding to the school division to assist with purchase of computers and other equipment needed to educate students during the pandemic. The money is part of a total of $50 million in federal money the school division has received so far to help with pandemic expenses.

Some of the supervisors also peppered school board members about their reopening plans and particularly about Walts’ recent decision to keep the majority of Prince William students learning virtually until at least 2021. 

Walts announced the latest iteration of the school division’s reopening plans at the Oct. 7 school board meeting.

Citing the local health district’s still high COVID-19 numbers -- as well as guidelines issued by the Virginia Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- Walts said only pre-kindergarten through first grade students, and some high school students taking career and technical education courses, would return to schools under the hybrid plan before January. 

That’s in addition to the approximately 1,200 special education students and English language learners who have been attending school four days a week since the new year began on Sept. 8.

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School Board member Jenn Wall (Gainesville) and Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, discuss returning students to schools for in-person learning during a meeting of both boards on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Republican Supervisors Jeanine Lawson and Pete Candland pressed the school board most strongly about the delay.

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From left: Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles; Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan; and Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, discuss returning students to school amid the pandemic during a joint meeting of the boards on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Candland asked how the $50 million in CARES Act funding is helping return students to school buildings for in-person learning.

Lawson, R-Brentsville, said she felt the school board “pulled the rug out from under many, many parents [and] families who were planning … including my family” when they agreed last week to go delay the hybrid plan.

Lawson said the school division’s many texts and emails to families urging them to complete the school division’s survey about returning students to school two days a week raised expectations that were ultimately dashed by the delay.

“I found it really frustrating for many, many families,” Lawson said. “…I felt a need to publicly represent a lot of people who feel like the rug was pulled out from under us last week.”

Lawson went on to share that her mother “almost died from COVID over the weekend.”

“So trust me, I understand the gravity of this virus. I felt it over the weekend with my 80-year-old mom,” Lawson added. “But we have many families throughout this county struggling, and this is crippling them, and we have got to give them some kind of timeline so they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. So that’s what we’re here to talk about tonight. What’s your plan?”

School Board members swiftly pushed back on the request, noting that they too want to return students to classrooms but must do so safely.

“We don’t have control of the virus,” said Occoquan District School Board Representative Lillie Jessie, who said she agreed with Walts’ move to delay the 50% hybrid plan based on local COVID-19 metrics as well as the realities involved in returning students to the county’s large middle and high schools.

Jessie noted that school board members received emails from 400 teachers expressing concerns about their safety and that of medically fragile family members.

Jessie also noted that it is not within the nature of schoolchildren – no matter what their age – to comply with social distancing rules.

“You’re dealing with a huge school system, and kindergarteners love to hug people and so do high schoolers,” Jessie said. "We have to keep our kids safe.”

School Board Vice Chair Loree Williams (Woodbridge) said the narrative that the school board “promised” all students would return on Nov. 10 was not accurate, and that the school board gave Walts the authority to adjust the plan based on health conditions and his best judgment.

School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef said he understood that the delay of the 50% hybrid plan “let people down.”

“That has absolutely been made clear by the hundreds of emails we’ve received, and we are working to get people back into the buildings,” Lateef said.

Yet Lateef also noted that the CARES Act funding – which has been used to purchase nearly 50,000 laptop computers and to boost the school division’s internet network, among other things – has been critical to the success of the hybrid plan in that students will still learn from home three days a week even when some return to school two days a week.

“The 50-50 plan will only work if we get everyone a computer,” Lateef said. 

Walts said he empathizes with parents’ concerns and frustrations, as he too has a high school senior. But he reiterated that his decisions, “first and foremost,” are based on the advice of health experts, both locally and with the VDH and the CDC.

“The bottom line is that on Sept. 28, that guidance was issued by the Virginia Department of Health. The plan I presented was based on that guidance,” Walts said.

Walts further reminded members of both boards that the county schools have already had more than 90 cases of COVID-19 reported among students and staff, as well as “two schools in full or partial quarantine,” despite the limited number of students currently attending in person.

“I’m quite certain if we had all of these people in the buildings, the number would far exceed 90,” Walts said.

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com

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(2) comments

SaferNOVAgrits

Apparently PWCPS AND PWCSB are tone deaf to parents and students. Good question that the Supervisor Candland asked: how has the $50M CARE act money being spent to implement in-person learning? The answer is ZERO! ☹

PARENTS AND TAXPAPERS SHOULD DEMAND OF BOS 28% REDUCTION IN PROPERTY TAXES SINCE THE BURDEN OF EDUCATION IS EQUALLY SHARED BY PARENTS. The delayed opening means parents continue to de facto homeschool. How is that number derived? Local tax funding is split 57.2% for PWCPS and 42.8 for the County Government. So, on a average $4355 property tax each household should receive a rebate of $1246, an ample amount for a STRESS-FREE online homeschool curriculum.

The School is totally opposite of the God’s Son Jesus Christ when He came to earth 2000 years ago as 100% human being. Was He selfish? Did He fool or bruise anyone? NEVER! He was GOOD, HONEST, and TRUTHFUL. He condemned the political-religious ruling class to their face for what they were: hypocrites, oppressors, and money-grabbers. For that reason, those powermongers hated Him so much that they wanted to murder Him and DID!

But Jesus was filled with compassion and IMMEDIATELY MET with and healed countless patients with horrible diseases (no appointments in advance, no co-pay, no co-insurance, no out-of-pocket expenses). He accommodated everyone that came to Him such that He couldn’t even eat—and absolutely no personal and/or social distancing!

At the end, He sacrificed HIMSELF for our spiritual covid-19 of sin and evildoing (yes we are all infected not just Board and Admin). All His precious pure blood that flowed down the tree where He was nailed provided the perfect antidote for our deadly disease, SIN. The Law Book states: for the wages of sin is death. (To read more about Jesus, go to Biblehub.com 😊 and search Luke NLT 1-24.)

ALSO MAKE A COROLLARY DEMAND: the humongous $1.3B PWCPS budget should be slashed by half.

WHY? --Teachers who can’t or won’t work in-person should have their salary reduced by 50% and the other 50% transferred to parents as discussed above.

-- Less use of physical facilities like buildings, equipment, computers, hvac etc therefore less wear and tear and maintenance costs and should need less labor

-- Benefits of physical assets and in building services have been reduced to students and therefore provide less value to their education

-- All group activities (e.g. sports) are basically non-existent and so their associated costs are also greatly reduced.

-- By being virtual, the labor pool is essentially nationwide, we should be able to hire teachers that work virtually from outside Loudoun County and in fact, outside the state for the time being where they are willing to accept lower wages due to lower cost of living as long as they have a good internet connection.

THEREFORE PWC RESIDENTS, vote with your tax dollars if the School won’t use the budget to do its job!

Catharpin411

Guess we will see who owns to the union. If we stay closed for reasons known only to the fake prophets then the union PAC wins...if they open as ALL those who are wise know to be true then the union fails.

My money is on union PAC victory and this we stay closed.

Should Biden win then right the 1st of the year the virus will miraculously be neutered and Biden and his kind will claim an effortless victory

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