Superintendent's May 20th Update
May 20, 2020
Dear LCPS Families and Staff Members:
I am writing to share information regarding how Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) is approaching our planning for the next school year, which is scheduled to start on August 27, 2020. We will be ready for the 2020-2021 school year, and I believe it is important for the community to understand the process we are implementing, with guidance and support from the Loudoun County School Board, to achieve that goal.
First, I want to express my hope that you and your family members are okay. COVID-19 dramatically changed all of our lives, with some members of our community experiencing strong challenges to their physical, mental and economic well-being. Nonetheless, members of the Loudoun community are stepping up, and as School Board members have commented, our community has earned a sense of pride for the tremendous level of community care that we continue to show one another. Within LCPS, staff members are embracing new roles and responsibilities, continuing to improve their craft every day. Parents inspire us as they work to support their children’s education while fulfilling numerous other responsibilities, and students amaze us with their resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges. I am grateful for each of your acts of community care.
Looking ahead, LCPS, under the leadership of the School Board, is planning how we will continue to fulfill our educational mission during the 2020-2021 school year, even in the face of continued uncertainty and challenges. We are preparing for the 2020-2021 school year with multiple COVID-19 scenarios in mind. Importantly, decisions regarding when and how to reopen school, and whether to extend distance learning will be condition-based, not time-based. Pre-defined, science-based metrics and re-opening metrics articulated by public health officials and other government authorities will guide our decisions. This approach can reassure community members who recognize that our decisions must be fact-based and not driven by arbitrary timelines OR unfounded fears.
We are planning for three scenarios, as well as many possible variations of each:
- Reopen schools with 100% in-person learning (Scenario 1): In-person learning in this scenario would occur without physical distancing or other public health mitigation strategies.
- Reopen schools with a combination of in-person and distance learning (Scenario 2): In-person learning would occur with physical distancing and other public health mitigation strategies.
- Extend distance learning without in-person learning (Scenario 3): Distance learning would be extended with a revised approach, building on the strengths of the current distance learning approach and making good use of opportunities for improvement.
We also recognize that after starting the 2020-2021 school year in one scenario, we need to be agile enough to shift back and forth among scenarios, if necessitated by conditions.
In the Forward Virginia Reopening Blueprint, Governor Northam set forth a multi-phase blueprint for easing public health restrictions that includes metrics to guide progress through the reopening phases. This blueprint will significantly affect which scenario we are in at the start of the new school year. Officials have not yet provided information that specifically connects the operation of public schools to the phases of the Forward Virginia Reopening Blueprint. Also, the Virginia Department of Health has not yet provided recommendations regarding physical distancing and other mitigation strategies that are specific to schools serving students in kindergarten through grade 12. With Virginia releasing additional details on an ongoing basis, we look forward to greater clarity regarding state guidance on the reopening of schools, including how public health recommendations should be applied in school settings.
The scenario we are in at the start of the new school year will also be greatly influenced by which phase of reopening Northern Virginia is in at the start of the school year. Northern Virginia is currently scheduled to enter Phase 1 of reopening at midnight on Thursday, May 28. We do not yet know when Northern Virginia will enter a phase of the blueprint that allows us to reopen schools with 100% in-person learning or to reopen schools with a combination of in-person and distance learning.
As noted above, LCPS will be ready for the 2020-2021 school year. To prepare, we are developing prototype approaches for each of the three scenarios. Each prototype includes modules, or components, relating to particular topics. Some modules apply to one scenario, while others apply to multiple scenarios, including iterations of the three primary scenarios. Here are examples of modules that we anticipate being included in the prototypes for one or more scenarios:
- student and teacher schedules, including the amount of time in live, interactive, face-to-face (“synchronous”) distance learning;
- serving the needs of students with disabilities and English learners;
- the social-emotional needs of students and adults;
- assessment and grading;
- cleaning protocols; and
- enhanced 100% distance learning options for parents who choose not to send students back to school, even if LCPS is offering in-person learning
We are revising our prototypes based on feedback and evolving information in order to work toward detailed plans for the start of the new school year.
We recognize that the way in which we start the new school year will have major implications for students, parents, staff members, employers and the broader community. For example, take the scenario in which we might reopen schools with a combination of in-person and distance learning. The need for physical distancing and other public health mitigation strategies in this scenario would affect many aspects of school operations, including:
- The number of students that can be present in a classroom or a school at any one time;
- Bus transportation;
- Procedures for entering school, moving within schools, and departing schools;
- Meal service within schools;
- and many others.
Consequently, in a scenario in which we reopen schools with a combination of in-person and distance learning, on any given day some students would likely attend school for in-person learning while other students participate in distance learning. I underline the preceding sentence because of the significant implications for the community if not all students attend school on days when schools are open for in-person learning. Addressing the effects created by each scenario and identifying approaches to manage them is a substantial part of the work we are undertaking in our planning, and a high priority for the School Board.
Moving ahead, in early June we will solicit feedback from a variety of internal and external stakeholders to inform the ongoing revisions and enhancements to our scenario plans. We will conduct focus groups with multiple parent, employee, and community groups. Prototypes of individual school plans will be developed that apply division-wide prototypes to the unique situations at individual schools. Planning groups will develop new modules to address requirements not previously considered. And in every case, we will evaluate scenarios and modules for viability and safety. And throughout the process, the School Board will review our work, while also revising policies and allocating resources, as needed, to support success.
We plan to update the community by the end of June regarding our plans for the new school year. By then, we anticipate having additional information regarding how the phases of the Forward Virginia Reopening Blueprint and how the recommendations of public health experts will apply to schools.
Given the ambiguity we all face, LCPS remains committed to communicating frequently regarding the information that we do know. For example, we anticipate providing additional details regarding summer school soon. And while we do not know when conditions will permit us to hold in-person graduation ceremonies, we will provide additional information, once it is available, and stand firm in our commitment to hold in-person graduation ceremonies. As I said to seniors in my letter last month, it is heartbreaking that graduation ceremonies will not be held on their originally scheduled dates. Seniors have earned a joyous celebration. Their families, their teachers, their friends and the community look forward to celebrating seniors’ accomplishments.
I want to close by again acknowledging the significance of the decisions we will make regarding the 2020-2021 school year. It is an understatement to say that this is a difficult situation for every member of our community. With that in mind, our commitment to community care includes continuing to work to meet the academic, physical health, and mental wellness needs of our students. Community care also involves striving to help parents, employees, and the broader community thrive, not just endure, as we meet our challenges. We will be #ReadyTogether for the new school year.
Eric Williams, Ed.D.