WINCHESTER — Winchester Public Schools may start the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 17, with students attending classes twice a week.
On Wednesday night, the School Board agreed to put the Aug. 17 start date on the consent agenda for its July 20 meeting. Board member Elyus Wallace said he preferred an Aug. 24 start date.
If information regarding the coronavirus changes, the board could move the start date.
Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum said he will move forward with a tentative plan that permits students to attend in-person classes twice a week. Though no board action was taken, the general consensus among board members was that they support the plan.
The coronavirus pandemic brought in-person classroom instruction to a halt in mid-March across Virginia to prevent the spread of the virus. Virginia is now in the third phase of its reopening plan, which permits students to return to school under certain guidelines. How and when classes resume is ultimately up to each School Board.
Starting today, Winchester Public Schools will launch a two-week summer program for about 200 students across grade levels. This will aid students who are most in need in additional classroom support. The summer program will also help the school division plan for reopening on a larger scale in August, Van Heukelum said.
"We don't take this lightly," he said.
Frederick County and Clarke County school divisions are currently developing their reopening plans.
Reopening plans must be approved at the state level.
Winchester Public Schools has been exploring three options on how classes will be held.
Under the twice a week, in-person option, students would attend classes on Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. On Wednesdays, time would be dedicated for teachers to continue synchronous, live online learning and professional development. There would be staggered start and end times to the school day, as well as an option for students to take in-person classes in the evening. Saturday sessions for students who need extra support would be offered under this model.
Another model would allow all students to attend in-person classes Monday to Friday, but only for a half-day. This would split the day into two different shifts of students — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The other option would be to alternate days that students attend in-person classes on A or B schedules.
All three models would offer students the option to participate in 100% online learning. Van Heukelum said he wouldn't be surprised if 200 to 400 students choose this option. The school division has about 4,400 students.
If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 once in-person instruction resumes, anyone who has had contact with the known case will have to quarantine for 14 days. Contact is defined by the division as anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days prior to when the person became ill.
Those under quarantine will still be expected to participate in classes online, unless they are sick, Van Heukelum said. "We don't want to just stop their learning for two weeks."