WINCHESTER — At the start of the Frederick County School Board meeting Tuesday night, Superintendent David Sovine requested that the board consider voting on March 16 on whether to expand in-person learning from two to four days per week for students in grades 2-12.
If approved, the change would be effective April 12.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, students in those grades in Frederick County Public Schools have had the option to attend in-person classes two days per week since the start of the 2020-21 school year, while students in preschool through first grade have had the option to attend in-person classes four days per week.
The March 16 vote would follow a March 9 School Board Instruction Committee meeting, when more details about expanding in-person learning would be discussed.
But halfway into Tuesday's meeting, board member Brandon Monk made a motion to vote that night on expanding in-person learning instead of waiting two weeks.
"The reality is our kids are hurting," Monk said before he made the motion.
His motion stated that students in grades 2-5 who are enrolled in the hybrid model would be offered four days per week of in-person instruction starting March 22, while students in grades 6-12 offered four days per week of in-person instruction starting April 12. The motion further stated that students in the hybrid model would have the option to switch to fully virtual learning and that students currently enrolled in 100% online learning should remain in that model.
No one seconded Monk's motion, so the motion died.
Monk then made another motion that was similar, the only difference being that all hybrid students in grades 2-12 would be able to attend in-person classes four days a week starting April 12.
Board member Frank Wright seconded the motion, allowing time for discussion and a vote. The seven-member board ultimately voted against the motion, with only Wright and Monk voting in favor.
Board Vice Chairwoman Shontyá Washington said she would feel more comfortable voting in two weeks after she receives more information on March 9 about the school division's plan to expand in-person learning.
"The same information and the same date is happening," she said. "I'd rather see the plan."
"I think we're all looking forward to that opportunity for [students] to be able to get back," Washington added.
"I think there's just some confusion about folks wanting to bring students back versus not, and this was an opportunity for the board to be able to make a decision," said Monk, who previously expressed interest in the Instruction Committee meeting being held sooner so the board could take a vote on Tuesday night.
Board member Brian Hester called Monk's actions "showboating," adding that he believes all board members want students back at school.
"You just said that there's confusion on this board wanting to get children back into the schools. That is not the case and for you to say that is a little frustrating because that's all we've been working at all year long," Hester said. "April 12 is on the table, and we still need the information. We don't need to be showboating or anything... telling us that we don't want the kids in the schools."
Monk said he apologized if Hester considered his motions "showboating" and that he didn't mean that to be the case.
"Well it is," Hester said, interrupting Monk.
Monk continued: "I know you've expressed frustration, our parents and students and some teachers are frustrated as well."
Wright said it's important to commit as a division to expanding in-person learning on April 12.
"I think the date is the key issue here," he said.
Sovine said expanding in-person learning will reduce social distancing measures from six to three feet, but six feet will be enforced when possible. He added that there is a "risk-benefit" to adding more in-person learning days.
He reported that Virginia pediatricians have noticed an uptick in mental health cases among students, and he said some learning gaps have emerged during the pandemic. He added that more than 60% of the school division's employees have been vaccinated.
Last month, Clarke County Public Schools decided to open classrooms four days a week to special education students and English Language Learners on March 15. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade will have in-person classes four days a week starting April 5. Those in grades 7-12 are to return four days a week on April 12.
A decision on expanding in-person learning in Winchester Public Schools is scheduled for a March 22 vote by its School Board.
Attending the School Board’s work session on Tuesday night at the division’s administration building included Superintendent David Sovine, School Board Chairman Jay Foreman, Vice Chairwoman Shontyá Washington and board members Brandon Monk, Brian Hester, Bradley Comstock, Michael Lake and Frank Wright. The meeting was broadcast online via YouTube.