Norfolk School Board votes to start school year with 100% virtual learning


The Norfolk School Board voted Wednesday night to begin the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year with 100-percent virtual learning.

That plan will be in effect through Nov. 2.

The vote to approve the plan was 6-1. Vice Chair Rodney Jordan was the lone dissenting vote.

The seven school board members agreed last week that students will likely start the year with entirely virtual instruction due the recent surge in cases in the city.

Norfolk has regularly been reporting days of 100-plus cases and its seven-day average of percent of positive tests is 15 percent, well above the 5 percent recommended by the World Health Organization for safe reopening.

During Wednesday’s meeting, board members were shown several sample schedules for what online learning could look like for elementary, middle and high school students.

“There will be schedules with daily interactions with teachers and I think that will make a big difference,” said Superintendent Dr. Sharon Byrdsong.

Students’ schedules will also include additional instructional time for equity and opportunity students — early learners, students with disabilities, etc. — as well as after-school support for all students.

Many in the community anxiously awaited the vote.

“As parents, we have jobs and we have things that we have to do as well, so it’s going to be kind of hard to work around the schedule, but we have to figure that out as parents and as a school board together,” said parent Titanya Gaynor.

Data from the spring semester shows more than 4,700 students had at least one incomplete grade. Teachers reported more than 12,000 incomplete grades last semester.

Jordan, the only school board member who voted ‘no’ on the approved plan, wanted those students to get some in-person instruction in September, if safe to do so.

“I think that the health data will determine whether or not we would utilize that option but I think we should be prepared,” Jordan said.

Thomas Calhoun, the leader of the Norfolk Federation of Teachers, said last week he still wanted to know more details about the board’s plan once schools reopen.

“What is the plan? When someone turns out to be positive, and we find out like we did last week the response to the issue was not too hot … “If you don’t have a plan, what are you going to do? Are you going to close down the classroom, and send all the children home? Are you going to shut down the school? What’s going to happen?”

School officials gave some insight into a health and safety plan during Wednesday’s meeting as well.

Schools will work with the health department and the NPS Office of Communications to disseminate information about positive cases. The school board will be notified if a campus may need to close due to an outbreak.

Still, some information is not cut-and-dry.

A board member asked what would happen if a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19. Byrdsong said “there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.” The situation would be reviewed and determining who who needs to quarantine will be based on contact tracing investigation.

The school district has already been hit by the coronavirus. A custodian at Crossroads Elementary School, Anthony Harrell, died July 3 from COVID-19 at age 41. It is unknown how or where he picked up the deadly virus, but his family says he went partying at Virginia Beach nightclub in Virginia Beach on Father’s Day.

Multiple sources told WAVY-TV 10 that Harrell’s case triggered a quarantine of the entire custodial department at Crossroads, and several other district employees at other schools have also tested positive.

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