At the Loudoun County School Board's virtual Tuesday meeting, Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams presented updates on the division's plans for multiple scenarios next school year with regard to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.
Williams first introduced the three contingency plans at the board's April 21 meeting. Scenario 1 involves reopening schools in the fall with 100 percent in-person learning and no significant social distancing or public health mitigation strategies. Scenario 2 would have schools reopen with a combination of in-person and distance learning, while Scenario 3 would extend full-time distance learning.
"It's important to remind members of the community that our decisions are going to be condition-based, not time-based," Williams said. "We've said it before, but it's important to emphasize that the decisions will be based on the consideration of predefined metrics articulated by state officials and public health authorities."
Per Williams' presentation, the Virginia Department of Health has yet to provide official guidance on recommended health risk mitigation strategies for K-12 schools next year. Williams added physical distancing guidelines may require LCPS to limit the occupancy level of each school building to a specific percentage of that building's capacity.
Until VDH identifies such an appropriate percentage, LCPS plans to develop Scenario 2 prototypes based on 25- and 50-percent occupancy. Williams said division staff would assess any prototypes for safety and viability before implementing them.
However, as the commonwealth has not provided information connecting Gov. Ralph Northam's (D) Forward Virginia Blueprint to K-12 learning, Williams said it is difficult for staff to know what specific boundaries to set when combining in-person and distance learning.
As long as Loudoun County remains in a phase of Forward Virginia that prohibits in-person learning altogether, LCPS would have to rely on Scenario 3. Should this be the case, staff would revise its approach to distance learning based on successes and challenges that came about during the current semester's school closure.
"We're asking, how can we build on the strengths of current distance learning if we need to implement this scenario, and ... what opportunities for improving distance learning exist?" Williams said.
Though distance learning would ideally only be implemented for a portion of next academic year — if at all — LCPS hopes to develop distance learning options for students whose families do not want them engaging in any in-person learning for the entire 2020-2021 school year.
"Even if we're able to move forward, for example, with Scenario 2 ... recognizing that some parents might not want that option in spite of the mitigation strategies we would put into place, it's our plan to develop the capacity to offer 100 percent distance learning to parents," Williams said.
The superintendent reminded the board that each scenario, at this point, is intended as a roadmap rather than a detailed how-to manual. He called the prototype responses to each scenario "incomplete and imperfect," but assured listeners that they will "generate additional, iterative planning" as they develop further.
"We're not spending too much time about all the details, but we're creating broad brushstrokes to give a good picture, and we're building with the user in mind," he added.
Prototype development is divided into three "sprints," the first of which was conducted April 28 to May 8 and involved staff learning about the needs and expectations of various stakeholders for scenario development. Sprint 2, which began May 11 and will conclude Friday, involves work groups comprising members of LCPS senior staff, principals, parent representatives, students and other stakeholders.
"Our desired outcomes are four prototypes that are almost good enough to share with a much wider group of stakeholders," Williams said. He added these prototypes will include two for Scenario 2 and two for Scenario 3, and will focus on four key components: wellness, deeper learning, culture, and operations and systems.
Sprint 3 is scheduled for May 26 to June 12 and will engage teachers and other school-level staff in the first iteration of multiple school-level prototypes. Focus groups comprising multiple stakeholders will begin June 1 with the goals of obtaining feedback on prototypes and providing directional clarity within the community.
LCPS staff has proposed the School Board conduct a work session June 16 focusing exclusively on prototypes, during which the board would review focus group feedback, ask staff questions and offer input.
Tuesday's Loudoun County School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/420333980.