The Loudoun County School Board during its Tuesday meeting voted to direct Loudoun County Public Schools staff to work toward part-time in-person learning for select special-education students on Oct. 13, as well as certain English-learning students and preschoolers by Oct. 27.
For the last several weeks, LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams and other members of senior staff have presented the board with plans to eventually implement a four-stage hybrid learning model, in which students would attend school in person no more than two days a week.
To begin the meeting, Williams and Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Asia Jones presented options for which groups of students are to be included in “Stage 1” of the hybrid model.
The presentation focused primarily on students with special needs and highlighted the fact that not all division schools can sufficiently staff their special education programs: Only 19 out of 48 elementary schools, eight of 17 middle schools and four of 17 high schools have enough special education staff who indicated they were willing to teach in a hybrid learning environment.
Per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, LCPS cannot limit specialized programming to students who attend schools with sufficient staffing.
As such, Jones suggested LCPS would require as many faculty and staff members necessary to accommodate applicable students in “Stage 1” — regardless of whether those employees indicated a preference for 100 percent distance learning earlier this summer — following board recommendation.
Board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) followed the presentation with a motion that special-education students of all ages who receive instruction through the Aligned Standards of Learning (ASOL) or self-contained programs, English learners with a proficiency level between 1.0 and 1.9, and district preschoolers be included in “Stage 1.”
Serotkin recalled the meeting last month when the board decided to begin the school year with 100 percent distance learning, during which he “spoke at length about the student groups for whom I had the most serious concerns about the effectiveness and practicality of distance learning,” particularly students in special education programs.
“For students with severe disabilities, we’ve been dancing around the elephant in the room: How effective will it be for them to learn through distance learning?” he said.
Though Serotkin’s motion initially included specific dates in which each student subset would ideally begin hybrid learning, several succeeding motions struck most those dates in favor of a goal to implement all of the listed programs as part of “Stage 1” by Oct. 27, the sole exception being the aforementioned SPED subsets on Oct. 13.
“To me the dates, at this point, are arbitrary because we don’t have enough information,” Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) said.
With those amendments in place, the board ultimately voted unanimously in favor of the recommended action.
LCPS staffers are expected to present more possible dates for “Stage 1” implementation to the board at its meeting scheduled for Sept. 8, the first day of classes.
Also, in response to information Jones and Williams presented, Serotkin moved that the division implement a program in which employees could request voluntary placement and leave-without-pay status while phase guidance for Virginia schools is in effect.
Following discussion, that motion also passed unanimously.
Most students will begin the year in a 100 percent distance learning model, a move the School Board approved toward the end of last month.
The Academies of Loudoun’s Monroe Advanced Technical Academy, however, will begin with partially in-person instruction to accommodate pupils in its many hands-on courses, LCPS officials announced last week.
Correction: This story has been corrected to state that special-education students in ASOL or self-contained programs are scheduled to enter a hybrid model Oct. 13, not Oct. 27.