June 10 School Board Meeting Talking Points
Posted on 06/10/2020
Head shot of Superintendent Walts. Message from Dr. Walts

 

  1.  As we have reached the end of the academic year, I would like to begin this evening by saying, thank you.
  2. This is not the school year anyone expected. 
  3.  However, thanks to a remarkable community effort we made the best of an incredibly difficult and unprecedented situation to support our students, families, and employees as best as we could.
  4. Thank you to our teachers, student learning, and student services staff, who remarkably transformed learning for our students nearly overnight and adjusted rapidly to the challenges of supporting students virtually and remotely.
  5. Thank you to our administrators, who worked tirelessly on the many logistical challenges, from managing staff remotely, to ensuring every student had technology, to distributing materials and coordinating diploma pick-ups.
  6. Thank you to our support staff and teams of dedicated employees. All our departments have been working hard from distributing more than 606,000 meals, to technology and communications keeping us connected, to our human resources, finance, and facilities teams continuing critical work uninterrupted.
  7.  We not only reinvented public education, but our finance staff reinvented our budget, too.
  8.  Thank you to our students. This was not an easy year, but you persevered and demonstrated great resilience in the face of adversity. I, again, congratulate our graduating class and hope to see you in person this August, should conditions allow. 
  9.  Thank you to our families. Our parents and guardians, as always, are key to the success of our students, and that is clearly demonstrated this year. We greatly appreciate your flexibility and collaboration as we partnered together to support our students.
  10.  Now as we look ahead to the next academic year starting in August, we, only yesterday afternoon, received guidance from the Governor and the Virginia Department of Education.
  11. I would like to share with you a few key highlights from their 136-page guidance and requirements.
  12. First, we assume that we will be in Phase III when school is scheduled to begin in August.
  13.  Under the State’s requirements, learning and instruction must be provided for every student.
  14.  In-person instruction can be offered for all students; however, strict social distancing measures must be implemented. Virtual instruction is also an option and so is a hybrid model allowing for both in-person and virtual.
  15. Remote learning exceptions and teleworking should be options for students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness.
  16. Under the current CDC guidelines, this includes anyone 65 and older, and those persons with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and those who are immunocompromised including those undergoing cancer treatments or on corticosteroids or other immune-weakening drugs.
  17. Per the State requirements, mitigation strategies may impact school operations and student capacity limits.
  18. Additional operational requirements mandated by the State include physical distancing, such as keeping students six feet apart, gathering limits and other mitigation strategies, including the use of face coverings by students and staff.
  19. The VDOE is requiring physical distance between children on school buses when possible, including one child per seat, every other row, and limiting capacity as needed to optimize distance between passengers. Children (such as siblings) living together may sit together on the bus.
  20.  VDOE and the State are also requiring physical distancing of at least 6 feet to the greatest extent possible in all buildings and classrooms. Other social distancing precautions should include, but are not limited to, restricting mixed classes and closing or staggering the use of communal spaces such as cafeterias, and limiting outdoor activities and recess to 50 people, with a priority on social distancing and restricting the mixing of classrooms.
  21. Large gathering limits will be determined by Executive Order in effect at that time.
  22. According to VDOE, athletics and extracurricular activities may continue with some mitigation measures. This includes limiting athletes’ contact with each other, perhaps only allowing for some sports training rather than competitions. More guidance will be forthcoming from the State.
  23. Before entering Phase II or III, every school in Virginia will be required to submit to the VDOE a plan outlining their strategies for mitigating public health risk of COVID-19.
  24. Additionally, public school divisions will be required to submit a plan for providing new instruction to all students in the 2020-21 academic year, regardless of phase or the operational status of the school at the time. This plan must also include strategies to address learning lost due to spring 2020 school closures and plans for fully remote instruction should public health conditions require it.
  25. While we agree that the safety of students and staff should be at the forefront, we also recognize this guidance is a significant unfunded mandate on our School Division, and places an immense challenge on our teachers, administrators, staff, students, and families both fiscally and logistically.
  26. We also recognize that the State’s directives are not aligned to the realities of our School Division’s scale, scope, or budget.
  27. Additionally, the physical distancing, bus, and building capacity requirements, and health considerations of staff and students, will unfortunately make it impossible to have all students and staff in buildings at any one time.
  28. Therefore, we will have to implement some variation of distance learning, alternating schedules, and telework.
  29. Despite these challenges, we are working hard to prepare for the fall. We have a number of plans that have been taking shape over the past few weeks.
  30. It is also important to note, as I have shared previously, PWCS has a number of actions that were underway before we received this guidance yesterday.
  31.  First, we have multiple collaborative teams comprised of school-based instructional staff, including special education, and English learning, as well as school-based administrators and department leaders, working on development and completion of plans.
  32. This includes development of our PWCS Return to Learn and Work Plan, as well as a team working on implementing our digital learning management system, Canvas, for this fall.
  33.  We are continuing to implement our digital equity plans, as well as providing computer devices for students without them at home, and access to the internet through a combination of WiFi parking lots, hot spots, and reduced cost internet through Comcast.
  34.  These plans take into consideration the health and logistics challenges involved, and will be greatly shaped by the guidance we received yesterday afternoon from the State.
  35. Second, we will be surveying families and staff in the next two weeks to obtain further feedback on the guidance from the State, as well as to gain insights to shape our final plans.
  36. It is my hope to have a more specific return to learning update for the School Board to consider by mid-July.
  37. I have previously shared with you our summer learning plans and they remain the same virtual offering, and Associate Superintendent Goss will outline those again in greater detail in just a moment.
  38.  I do want the School Board and community to be aware that based on the Governor’s guidance yesterday, we are developing plans to host in-person ACT in our schools starting this July and SAT testing in August. We will be determining the protocols that will need to be in place in order to do that safely.
  39.  It is also important to acknowledge as we prepare our return to learning plans for the fall, we must do so with consideration for the recent events occurring locally and nationally.
  40. As I continue to watch with great sadness the events of the past several days, first and foremost, my heart breaks for George Floyd, his family, his friends, and all of my fellow Americans and global citizens who have been moved by the loss of his life.
  41. For America to flourish, we must stand behind the rights of every person to live and function within our society in a way that is safe and secure.
  42. Recent events, locally and nationally, have shown that the voices of many in our community are not being heard.
  43. As a majority-minority School Division, we must not only celebrate diversity and equity, we must actively pursue it for all of our more than 91,500 students.
  44. Furthermore, we must be vigilant in promoting antiracism.
  45.  As I announced last week, I believe we must take immediate actions to support antiracism efforts.
  46.  First, we will not tolerate hate in any form in our schools. It does not align with the values of our School Division.
  47. This includes the symbols we choose to use and allow in our schools, which is why I recommend the School Board pursue removal of Confederate names and symbols from our schools.
  48.  Additionally, I will develop a community panel comprised of diverse voices from across the county to collaborate on a review of our Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Prince William County Police and make recommendations if changes are needed.
  49.  Our police department is a critical partner to our schools and our intent is to strengthen the relationship in a positive manner for every student and staff, and we truly thank them for their service. 
  50. Additionally, we will continue to pursue our equity work well underway and continue to provide training to our staff to improve our cultural competency.
  51.  In closing, it took our entire community working together to adjust to the unexpected pandemic this year, and I thank everyone for their hard work.
  52.  It will take our entire community working together to tackle the injustices and inequities of our society, and we are committed to doing so.
  53.  Lastly, it will take all of us together to undertake the immense challenges ahead this coming academic year as we work to return to learning.
  54. I know the road ahead is not easy, but I remain hopeful and optimistic that we will be successful, and ensure a World-Class Education for every child. 
  55.  Thank you and stay healthy.