LCSB meeting // 3-20-20

The Loudoun County School Board conducts a special meeting and COVID-19 work session March 20. While members of the public could not attend in person due to Gov. Ralph Northam's 10-person cap on public gatherings, the meeting was available to stream online.

The Loudoun County School Board met Friday afternoon for a special meeting and work session regarding Loudoun County Public Schools' response to the coronavirus health crisis.

The meeting's first half covered action and information items originally scheduled for the board's March 24 meeting, which will no longer take place. After a short break, the board reconvened to discuss COVID-19 concerns around 7 p.m. Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) began by thanking LCPS administration, teachers and other staff for their hard work in addressing such an unprecedented issue, as well as parents and families for their "patience and perseverance."

"Your leadership, the decisive decision-making, and the collaboration with state, local and national partners has been exemplary," Sheridan told Superintendent Eric Williams. "I know that LCPS is in really good hands with the leadership demonstrated by yourself and the cabinet — sitting in a different room, six feet apart, as recommended by the CDC."

After reviewing the division's current plans for closure, Williams discussed means by which LCPS families and staff can demonstrate "community care," in addition to social distancing. "Community care includes caring for the most vulnerable among us, including those with food insecurity and those with underlying medical conditions," he said. He also plans to work to properly acknowledge graduating seniors' accomplishments and ensure they "don't feel forgotten or overlooked."

The superintendent further discussed compensation practices for employees, including income replacement, saying long-term substitute teachers and all other part-time employees will receive pay through April 10. Full-time hourly and salaried employees — teacher assistants, secretaries, bus drivers, maintenance workers, etc. — will also be compensated during the closure period.

"It is challenging to navigate uncharted territory with so much uncertainty, and I want to acknowledge the difficulty of functioning in this environment with so much ambiguity, and because of that we're going to continue to provide ongoing updates," Williams said. "I am really grateful for the community's patience and tolerance of uncertainty."

LCPS Director of Communications & Community Engagement Rob Doolittle gave a rundown of the means by which families can receive updates on the pandemic and the division's responses to everyday developments. A list of frequently asked questions and other information can be found on the "COVID-19 Preparedness at LCPS" webpage at lcps.org/Page/227558, and community members can call the LCPS COVID-19 telephone hotline at 571-252-6499.

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Kevin Lewis gave an update on the division's free meals program, saying more than 62,000 breakfasts and lunches had been served to Loudoun students at pickup locations and countywide bus stops as of Friday. Support Services has made several changes to consolidate the program's efforts: Three more buses will be added to bring the delivery fleet to 57, while the number of delivery stops will decrease from 263 to 248, and in-person pickup will take place at 26 select schools rather than all LCPS campuses.

Updates on "distance learning" initiatives came from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis, who said LCPS is working with the Virginia Department of Education to develop appropriate measures for continuity of education while students remain at home indefinitely. Optional, Internet-based resources by which students can review previously learned material are available at lcps.org/continuityofeducation, and teachers will begin using Google Classroom March 30 to review previously covered skills with pupils, according to a Thursday announcement.

Ellis said Google Classroom was chosen since it is already the most-used online learning platform by LCPS teachers and is easily accessible to students via their Chromebooks or other electronic devices. For students in second grade or lower, Google Classroom may prove less user-friendly, and teachers at those grade levels will therefore resort primarily to ParentVUE to distribute assignments. All division teachers virtually participated Wednesday in distance learning training.

"We ask teachers to use this time to ... set up a Google Classroom if they don't have one that they actively use, to practice using tools including Google Meet to meet with colleagues, and begin developing HypderDocs, which is an online lesson format," Ellis said. Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Asia Jones later added special education teachers are working with staff to develop accessible means of education continuity and teacher-pupil communication for students in special education classrooms.

At this point, LCPS will not assign grades or new content. "[VDOE] have been pretty strong in that guidance, that unless you can ensure equitable access for every single student and meet all requirements of free and appropriate public education, they do not advise offering new content and assigning grades," Ellis said. "In the future, if the closure extends, we may shift to teaching new concepts, ideas and skills, but not at this time. We are currently working with our friends in [the Department of Pupil Services] to consider ways to maximize equitable access to new content and skills should the closure be extended."

Dual-enrollment and Advanced Placement courses may be exceptions to the no-grades and no-new-content rules. Partner colleges offering dual-enrollment classes shared specific guidance with dual-enrollment teachers and high school principals earlier this week, Ellis said. College Board, which is in charge of AP courses, announced Friday it will provide free remote learning resources for AP students and is working to develop an at-home testing option. Traditional, face-to-face AP exam administrations will not take place this year.

Further, Ellis sought to quash rumors that Standards of Learning testing this year has been canceled. "The VDOE has used its authority to extend the timeline for SOLs, and in order to cancel them, they will need to wait for the waivers that they submit to the Department of Education," she said. VDOE is also seeking waivers for graduation requirements in the commonwealth to ensure high school seniors are able to graduate regardless of impediments to their instruction.

Assistant Superintendent for Digital Innovation Vince Scheivert commended LCPS for its cooperation with his department in ensuring students have proper access to technological necessities. He described the recently implemented hotspot program, through which the division purchased around 1,000 devices to provide hotspots for those in need of internet access. Families can apply to receive these devices from the Department of Digital Innovation — Scheivert said recipients will be prioritized based on need.

Students having trouble with LCPS-provided technology have several means of troubleshooting during the closure period, according to Scheivert. They can call the Technology Support Center at 571-252-2112, visit supportcenter.lcps.org or email technologysupportcenter@lcps.org.

LCPS also completed purchase of 11,373 additional Chromebooks through its Individual Learning Device program, and had received more than 5,600 of those as of Friday afternoon. Scheivert said all those devices should be onsite next week, and an additional order has been placed for 3,700 devices, which would complete the acquisition of 15,000 new devices authorized last week. A scheduled rollout of these devices is planned to begin next week.

Board members then had the opportunity to question Williams and staff. John Beatty (Catoctin District) asked whether there are plans to extend the 2019-2020 school calendar, to which Williams replied VDOE has shown great flexibility when considering waivers to student attendance requirements this year. "They've asked us to have some patience with them as they're sorting through some things," he said.

Jeff Morse (Dulles District) asked what "trip wires" might lead Loudoun schools to shut down for the rest of the year, barring federal or state intervention. While Williams said administration has not yet identified these potential issues, he opined it is not "realistic at all" to expect LCPS to resume normal operations by the currently scheduled date of April 13.

Leesburg District representative Beth Barts asked Lewis whether LCPS would be able to continue supplying free meals to students at such a high rate. Lewis said suppliers have so far met the requests from Student Nutrition Services, with Williams stating his optimism that the federal government will offer at least partial reimbursement for the program down the road.

"We [board members] try to be the voice of the public, we get thanked a lot, but it's really you guys that have done everything," Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District) — who participated remotely after coming in contact with a known case — told Williams and his cabinet toward the end of the work session. "Whatever comes ... I'm glad that I'm in it with you guys."

Actions taken in the meeting's first half included an adjustment to the division's fiscal 21 operating budget, allocating $3.7 million in additional funds to teacher salaries and bringing the total amended budget to roughly $1.383 billion. Approved unanimously by the board, the decision comes after the State General Assembly earlier this month found final state revenue projections for LCPS to be $6.2 million greater than what was included in the fiscal 2021 adopted budget.

Friday's meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/399381555.

(9) comments

mover

Teacher salaries are NOT going up 6% at all, that was cut deeply after money was decided upon after the County budget meeting. Money came in earmarked from the state to use specifically to teacher raises as per Govenor Northrum that is now not guaranteed to be used for that purpose. The illusion is that teachers in LCPS make so much more than local jurisdications but that is far, far, far from the truth..Get on line and check salary scales in surrounding areas and get a wake up call. Little Manassas City teachers in the mid to later range of the scale make up to $12,000 to $15,000 more than an LCPS teacher. Prince Willaim teachers who are seasoned veterans make as much as $20,000 to $25,000 more. And we want more teachers who live in Loudoun? Really? I think when we continue to make comments attacking teachers not knowing the facts and what is really done day in and day out we need be informed before we attack!

Virginia SGP

It is obscene that the school board shoveled an additional $3.7M towards teachers salaries (already slated to increase by 6% in 2021) while we have workers by the 10Ks being laid off who will have to pay for that via property taxes. The teacher salary scale should be adjusted back down to a step increase. 10Ks of hardworking families who are actually sacrificing so that LCPS employees with guaranteed job security can get 8% raises is unethical, immoral, and malpractice by this board.

Additionally, why won't LCPS let teachers teach their students remotely? Communications have indicated teachers are not allowed to teach. Why? Just because not every student (we want to work toward that goal) cannot get online right now, we shouldn't have teachers sit idly by for 12 days (from March 12 - March 27).

Lastly, why do these elected and appointed officials feel the need to pat themselves on the back constantly for doing essentially the minimum? Private schools are up and running. Small businesses figured out a way to get some revenue via delivery or takeout. But LCPS has essentially provided nothing to their customers (students) and are talking about how great they are doing? The teachers likely would be working with students if allowed to by the administration. We realize this is unexpected but congrats are NOT in order. We may hold off the criticism but that doesn't mean there isn't room for enormous improvement. And if they cannot get their act in order, we should start criticizing them. Williams/Barts/Reaser or the rest are crazy if they think they are doing a good job.

jke

Can we put the raise for teachers off until the next school year, now? That is $350 per chrome book. Why when they are listed for $250?

jke

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BobOhneiserEsq

My belief is that what we can control should be done. Factually the state WILL have severe problems supporting the teacher pension program as what they own just went down in value and it seems pretty obvious they will not be able to manage the 7.5% actuarially required ROI to maintain teacher pensions. I have already sent a note to the BOS suggesting they seriously consider refinancing the approx. $2 billion in County debt so we can better afford the huge increase about to occur in support of teacher pensions. Its' what we can do with interest rates at zero with a AAA rating! Let's do what we can and not just whine about the scenario none of us caused. (no response whatsoever from BOS so far). :-)

applicant45554

I’ve never understood teacher compensation, but I can understand if this hard to read for folks who got laid off because they had no work and are still paying property taxes to support these salaries. I feel really bad for the waiters and private school teaches and others without work because of all this. Please do not reply to this comment with dumb rants about Donald Trump.

Count Quackula

They can’t help themselves. Their TDS is worse than the virus.

LoudounBornandRaised92

Obviously I can't speak for all LCPS staff. I am not a teacher, but I am an LCPS employee and I am working full-time right now remotely and have a lot of work that needs to be done. There are many teachers out there still lesson planning and trying to help their kids. There are many teachers out there still attending IEP meetings and things revolving around special education as those things have not halted and there are federally mandated timelines we have to hit. So - there are many people still working. Again - can't speak for everyone, but I promise we're not all just sitting here collecting a paycheck while it's all falling apart around us.

mover

Very well said.

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