By Katherine Farris
This school year is going to be very different for faculty, students and parents in Botetourt County because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Botetourt County Public Schools administrators and staff will welcome students back on Monday, Aug.24. We are very excited about returning to school and have been preparing our buildings, transportation, and staff for the transition to a new model of operations. We will begin with a hybrid in-person and remote learning schedule and plan to transition to a full in-person schedule in January if it is safe to do so. We appreciate the support and collaboration from all stakeholders in this unprecedented planning process and look forward to a great school year,” Dr. Janet Womack, assistant superintendent for instruction, said.
Tim McClung, principal at Central Academy Middle School, is currently preparing his staff for this major shift. He said, “It doesn’t matter if you have 30 years, 17 years, or you’re a brand new first-year teacher – right now, we’re all first-year starting over because none of us have done anything like this before.” Through the unpredictable, daily changes, this open mindset highlighted at Central Academy has resulted in a strategic mitigation plan to maximize safety.
First, students were given a choice to attend classes completely online or in-person for an assigned two days per week. Approximately 11-15 percent of students at each school chose to exclusively learn from a remote environment. All students in fifth grade, middle school, and high school will be issued a Chromebook.
If the student chose to attend school in-person, he/she will face a new “norm” in all aspects of the school day. Beginning with transportation to school, new rules for riding the bus include required masks for all students, and each student must have his/her own seat unless sharing with a sibling. At Central Academy, there will be a no-contact temperature check before entering the front doors that are designated by grade level. Upon entrance to the building, each student will then follow color-coded arrows that represent his/her grade level. McClung believes that by continuing to keep students separated by grade level in high traffic areas, contact tracing of the virus will be easier in the case that a student tests positive. When reaching a destination such as a classroom or the cafeteria, each student will be seated in socially distanced desks that will remain six feet apart.
In terms of sanitation, students will be able to use hand sanitizer at multiple stations throughout the building. High-touch surfaces including desks and doorknobs will be continually wiped down throughout the day and cleaned after the students leave. Central Academy will host health meetings for all students, one small group at a time, during the beginning of the school year to go over the newly placed rules.
While the approaching school year is certainly not ideal, the personnel at Central Academy have been diligently working to enact a plan prioritizing the safety of students, and they appreciate the understanding from parents. McClung said, “We have a plan. It’s time to move forward. It’s not going to be perfect;” as he states, “there are questions that we don’t even know what the questions are yet.’” With cautious optimism, faculty and staff at the Botetourt County Public Schools are prepared and eager to welcome students back during this historic year.