The clock is ticking in Loudoun County, Virginia, for teachers and parents to make a critical decision: Will they opt for face-to-face instruction this fall?
Dozens of teachers who don’t believe a return to the classroom will be safe blasted their car horns outside the county's education headquarters Monday afternoon during the Loudoun Education Association's “Solidarity for Safety Rally.”
They also carried signs expressing their concerns - one reading: “I can't teach from a hospital or grave!"
The school board voted to put a hybrid instruction plan in place when classes resume.
Families can choose two days of in-person instruction along with distance learning or they can select full-time virtual instruction.
Teachers were asked to make the same decision by Wednesday morning.
"I hope our rally makes it clear to the administration and the community that we don’t feel safe going back into the buildings yet. We don’t feel it's safe for students, or for any employee or our families," said Sandy Sullivan, the incoming president for the Loudoun Education Association.
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The Education Association and many of its members are urging the school board to reconsider its decision, and to instead start back with only distance learning.
They say they are concerned about having enough PPE and cleaning supplies, and whether adequate protocols are in place when a teacher or student tests positive for coronavirus.
"Without the proper safety protocols in place and without contact tracing and wide-scale testing in the community, I think their best decision would be not to go to a hybrid, but to go to a distance learning model," Loudoun Educations Association President David Palanzi said.
The teacher leaders say they’d like to see the school district do a dry-run using teacher volunteers, and possibly students, so they could see what in-person instruction would look like.
Loudoun County Public Schools gave the following statement to News4:
Loudoun County Public Schools’ highest priority is the safety and well-being of students, staff members and their families, as evidenced by our decision to close schools on March 12, prior to the Governor’s decision that all schools would close in Virginia, and by our decision not to set aside the Governor’s Phase Guidance for Virginia Schools in order to start the school year with five days a week of in-person learning for students.
LCPS continues to prioritize safety in planning for the return to school, following the guidance and recommendations of local, state and federal health authorities. Our plans call for physical distancing on buses and in classrooms, a limited number of students in classes, additional cleaning of buildings and other measures that are consistent with health authorities’ guidance. We will continue to refine these plans as we approach the new year. Parents who do not wish to send their students to school have the option of choosing 100 percent distance learning.
We acknowledge the diverse opinions regarding how schools should operate in the new school year. We understand the urgency of some who wish to maximize in-person learning and we share the appropriate focus on the well-being of students, staff members, and the broader community.
Teachers are due back to work on August 19. Students return to class on Sept. 8.