By Aila Boyd
Students of Botetourt County Public Schools returned to the classroom on Monday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the area.
Students who are participating in in-person instruction are required to complete self-screening questions before reporting to school each day. Temperature checks are being conducted at the school sites upon arrival.
Despite the changes, the first day went smoothly across the county. Superintendent Jonathan Russ wrote in an emailed statement:
“I am extremely proud of the smooth opening at all Botetourt County Schools today. Our principals and teachers have worked so hard for this day and it was evident as I visited schools. Entries into schools went very well. Students were cooperative and parents were patient. Our teachers were rock stars today!”
Planning for Monday extended from early spring to August 13, when the Botetourt County School Board passed a resolution in support of face masks. Board chair Michelle Crook noted that “Botetourt County Public Schools has been anticipating the return to school since March. And, today finally arrived! Today is filled with so many emotions: excitement that our children are back in school, gratitude to every employee in our division for all of the hard work they have done to prepare for this school year, and nervousness because this is new for everyone involved .”
The preparations facilitated a smooth re-entry, according to Tim McClung, principal of Central Academy Middle School.
“It was an excellent first day of school for our students. A special thank you goes out to the CAMS teachers and staff as well as our school community.”
Dr. Lisa Taylor, principal of James River High School, felt equally optimistic.
“It was a great first day back! It was so beautiful to see the students, and I know they were happy to see each other, as well. I want to thank our custodians, support staff, and teachers who have worked so hard to prepare for our students’ return. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we had a very smooth first day, and we look forward to the rest of the school year,”
The division has a policy in place that requires students to stay at home when they are sick or when they have recently had contact with a person with COVID-19. If students have any of the following symptoms, they are required to stay home and follow specific guidance from their healthcare provider:
A new fever (100°F or higher)
A new cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing that cannot be attributed
to another health condition
New chills that cannot be attributed to another health condition
A new sore throat that cannot be attributed to another health condition
New muscle aches (myalgia) that cannot be attributed to another health condition
or specific activity (such as physical exercise)
New congestion, runny nose, or headache which cannot be attributed to another
specific health condition
A new sudden loss of taste or smell
Other gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
According to the division’s COVID-19 health plan, “Shared spaces where students may congregate will be marked to promote physical and social distancing. Administrators will ensure that shared spaces are clearly marked and classroom seating configurations are designed to promote social and physical distancing. Items or school furniture which may encourage students to congregate will be removed from shared spaces. Students and staff will be restricted from entering non-essential classrooms or school areas.”
Additionally, desks and other high touch surfaces are being wiped down with a disinfectant between each class exchange and prior to a new group of students entering an area.
As for the potential of closure due to severe conditions, the health plan stipulates that decisions about a reduction in on-site or in-person activities will be made by the division superintendent after consulting with local health department officials.
Parents and students were also given the opportunity to participate in 100 percent virtual learning.
“Both the school board and the superintendent have stressed to our educators to remain flexible during the school year and try to not put undue stress in an already unprecedented situation,” said Crook. “My plea to parents, students, and faculty is to remain patient and kind with each other as we navigate the school year, especially these first few weeks.”