General

Why was the decision made to start the school year using a predominantly virtual format?

The decision by the School Board to adopt a predominantly virtual format to start the school year was based on a variety of factors. Weighing heavily in the deliberation of the decision was the Board’s shared priority to ensure the health and safety of ALL — HCPS students, staff and our community. Major factors the Board considered were: 

  • Evolving health data.
  • The recommendations of experts.
  • Community and staff input.
  • Health and safety implementation logistics.
  • Staffing availability. 

While we have been eager to see our students in person on Sept. 8, we believe this is the right decision at the right time based on evolving health information. 

As Virginia moved to “Phase 3” and the number of community cases seemed to be falling, the prospects looked promising for bringing our students back for some form of in-person instruction. However, recent health data raises significant concerns about whether the health-risk mitigation strategies (such as those recommended in Phase 3) provide the level of health and safety assurances that HCPS families and employees need to bring students back for in-person learning. 

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How long will the predominantly virtual format be in place?

A predominantly virtual learning environment will be used for at least the first nine weeks of the school year. The duration of this format will depend on a variety of factors, including evolving health conditions in our region. HCPS will continue to consult health experts to evaluate pandemic conditions in Virginia and the Richmond region, and regularly assess the feasibility of incorporating in-person attendance for certain student groups and staff members.

The administration has asked that the Student Health Advisory Board, an advisory committee to the Henrico School Board comprised of parents, students, health professionals, educators and others, take a role in any plans to increase in-person attendance. The Advisory Board will examine the guidance for reopening from the Virginia Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Department of Education, and advise the School Board about which health-data metrics may be given priority when considering whether to increase in-person student attendance at our schools.

If a predominantly in-person return to learning is implemented at any point during the school year, a fully online option will be available, based on demand.

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Why are you using the term “predominantly virtual” now, instead of “fully virtual”?

“Predominantly virtual” is a better way to describe our plan, which allows for limited in-person instruction for students with special needs, English learners, early learners and other small groups. However, the vast majority of our students will still be learning in a virtual format for the first nine weeks.

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What will the fall’s predominantly virtual education be like? Will it resemble the distance learning during the spring closure?

It will be much different! You may be familiar with “Henrico Edflix” which offered valuable material in the spring and summer. It was an emergency learning tool that provided flexibility for staff and students (primarily in elementary schools) in bringing the school year to a sudden close in the middle of a crisis. Additionally, at the time of the closure, not every HCPS household had access to a computer, a situation we have been working aggressively to address. HCPS has known for months that a virtual option would be included for the 2020-21 school year, and our staff members have been working long hours to create a redesigned, developmentally appropriate experience that is rich, structured, robust and graded. The virtual format will be “school,” rather than a collection of activities.

Virtual learning does not mean students and teachers have to be in front of their screens all day, every day. This can take on different forms such as independent work, or a project. No matter the educational format, we have and will continue to have high expectations for our students. A predominantly virtual school day will not be a time for students to “check out.”

While the virtual learning pathway is the learning approach for the first nine weeks, families can choose to continue virtually for the entire 2020-21 school year.

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Can you tell me what the schedule will be like?

This page includes examples of what sample schedules would look like at the elementary and middle/high school levels, but your student’s individual schedule may vary. It will be determined and communicated by the school later in August.

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What’s the difference between synchronous and asynchronous instruction?

Virtual learning will have “synchronous” and “asynchronous” components based on a schedule each day:

  • Synchronous learning is online or distance education that happens in real-time, delivered by a teacher at a specific time. Methods of synchronous online learning include videoconferencing, teleconferencing, live chatting and live lessons.
  • Asynchronous learning is online or virtual learning with students that happens on students’ schedules. While the content and resources are provided by the teacher, students have the ability to do their work using a flexible time frame. Methods of asynchronous online learning include virtual prerecorded lessons and preloaded resources.

For days or parts of days designated as asynchronous learning, students can use a suite of software through their assigned devices to supplement the teaching and learning opportunities provided by teachers.

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What about parents and guardians who can’t work from home and be available for their children who would ordinarily be at school?

HCPS is partnering with local organizations that routinely provide after-school care in our schools, to provide affordable options for elementary school parents during the day. Visit this page for full details. HCPS is also reaching out to employers to explain how critical virtual education is to students and families, and asking employers to provide flexible options for their employees. To assist working families, teachers would also provide access to recordings of lessons so that students would have the flexibility to complete assignments outside of school hours.

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I filled out the survey and provided input. Does my opinion matter?

Your input has been crucial to HCPS throughout the pandemic, and we appreciate the engagement of our families. While the recommendation to begin the year in a predominantly virtual format was based on health data and the safety recommendations of experts, public input was also an important consideration. Public education is a partnership between educators and communities, and we will continue to ask for your thoughts in coming months. If you’d still like to review survey results, you’ll find them at our HCPS 2020-21: Mission Forward page.

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Earlier, we were asked to express our preferences by Aug. 2. for a hybrid vs. virtual model. Do I still need to complete that “intent form”?

No, based on this decision, intent forms will not be necessary at this time.

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Will high school virtual learning be provided by HCPS teachers or by an outside provider? 

Synchronous distance learning will be provided primarily by HCPS high school teachers. Some students will need additional support completing graduation requirements using Edgenuity, an online learning resource.

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What about high school sports?

The Virginia High School League has voted to delay high school athletics, and reshuffle the order of the sports seasons. The tentative schedule is:

  • Season 1 (winter sports): Dec. 14 – Feb. 20 (first contest will be Dec. 28).
  • Season 2 (fall sports): Feb. 15 – May 1 (first contest will be March 1).
  • Season 3 (spring sports): April 12 – June 26 (first contest will be April 26).

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Will school meals continue to be available during this all-virtual format?

Yes. Go to our “grab and go” meals page for information about meal distribution sites and schedules this summer. Sites and schedules may change in September and we will announce updates as needed.

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What if COVID-19 cases in our area increase or other factors change?

Depending on health data and advice of health experts, there is a possibility that in-person instruction could be interrupted by periods of virtual learning. Any changes in instruction would be considered using CDC guidelines.

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Will in-person options still be considered for later in the 2020-21 year?

As we move forward, we’ll strive to gradually increase opportunities — as health and safety conditions allow — for limited in-person learning, by focusing on groups of students for whom distance learning presents more challenges. For example, at the start of the school year, we’ll be looking at many of the recommendations in Virginia’s Phase 2 which call for virtual instruction for most students, with limited in-person learning for students who receive special education services, English learners, early learners and other small groups.

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What are the guidelines for reopening our schools to in-person instruction?

HCPS continues to work on its 2020-21 Health Plan. Before reopening, HCPS and other Virginia school divisions must show how they will comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 prevention strategies, including:

  • Use of face coverings.
  • Health screenings for staff and students.
  • Physical distancing measures.
  • Enhanced hygiene practices for staff and students.
  • Isolating symptomatic cases.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
  • Enhanced hygiene practices for staff and students.

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Will employees be furloughed?

None of Henrico Schools’ hardworking employees will be furloughed. HCPS will keep our employees at work, perhaps in roles that slightly adjust to best meet our students’ needs.

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