Summer school will enable Waynesboro students to make up lost class time
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
WAYNESBORO — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s comments last week regarding public education were directed at school divisions that have not reopened since the pandemic began last March.
At Tuesday night’s regular meeting of the Waynesboro School Board, Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell said that the governor mentioned summer school and year-round school, but did not say that either would be mandatory for students.
“[School divisions] not in school for a year need to bring in students for summer,” said Cassell to school board members, staff and community members.
The governor held a conference call with Virginia school superintendents last Thursday, then followed up the conversation with a three-page letter.
Cassell said that Virginia has 132 school divisions, and 40 have not reopened since the state lockdown on March 16, 2020. The 40 divisions that have not reopened comprise 500,000 Virginia students.
Augusta County Schools reopened in September 2020 with a hybrid model for pre-K to 12th grade students, and Waynesboro Schools brought elementary school students in October with a hybrid model. High school and middle school students returned on a hybrid-model schedule four to five weeks ago, Cassell said.
“The limiting factor on the hybrid model is the 6-foot social distancing [requirement],” Cassell said.
Waynesboro Schools teachers received round 1 of COVID-19 vaccines last week, and will receive round 2 on March 4.
“That adds one layer of protection for our employees and for our students, because teachers shouldn’t be as likely to transmit,” Cassell said.
He said that the Centers for Disease Control, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education recommend 6-feet social distancing. Some school divisions in Virginia and the United States have tried three feet, but if someone tests positive three feet puts others in too close of a proximity and increases the chance of spreading COVID-19.
Cassell said that as long as students, staff and teachers maintain 6-feet social distancing, he does not anticipate the school division doing anything other than a hybrid model of education. He hopes that students will be able to return to in-person education for the 2021-2022 academic year in August.
Some Waynesboro Schools principals have asked about if space is available for students to social distance, could more at-risk students return to in-person learning.
Cassell said he is concerned about all Waynesboro students receiving a fair and equitable public education regardless of the pandemic.
“You’ve heard us say over and over this pandemic is highly inconvenient. There is nothing fair about it, but we shouldn’t have empty seats in our buildings that could be occupied by students that need to be there,” Cassell said.
Although Waynesboro Schools reopened in the fall, Cassell said the school division has “a learning gap,” which will make summer school necessary.
He said he does not have details yet about summer school, only that it will be more hours per day and more days per week than typical summer school.
“Summer school is going to be much more robust. It’s not mandatory, it’s not year-round school, but we’ve got a lot of making up to do with instruction,” Cassell said.