The Everett Area School District will be returning to a hybrid education model next week.
Students in grades K-12 will return to school buildings on Jan. 19 and will follow the same alternating schedule they had at the beginning of the school year.
Superintendent Dr. Danny Webb said the district believes it can mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in the school through social distancing.
“We need to get some face-to-face time with the students,” he said. “We have confidence we can manage it.”
The district has been in a fully virtual schedule since Nov. 16 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in Bedford County.
Webb cited a decline in daily COVID-19 cases in the county as the reason the district is switching from a fully virtual schedule to the hybrid model, which divides students into two groups and has them alternate between in-person and online learning on a week-to-week basis.
But the superintendent cautioned the county is still far above the level of transmission the state recommends in order for schools to return to in-person instruction.
“The county is still in the substantial level — it’s actually three times the number to be in the substantial level,” he said.
Students in the district were permitted to begin extracurricular activities on Tuesday. Webb said athletic teams will need 10 practices before they are able to compete in games.
Attendance at events in Everett will be limited to the parents of the Everett students participating, Webb said.
In order to return to hybrid model with in-person instruction, the district will need to submit a new attestation form to the state acknowledging it will follow all state recommendations. Webb said those guidelines include recommendations on school building closures based on COVID-19 case counts.
Webb said it is a possibility the district will need to close a building sometime after returning to a hybrid model if cases get too high.
“We’re fully expecting that could happen — it’s likely to happen,” he said.
There is no set timeline for the district to return to full in-person instruction.
Webb said a group of parents attended the district’s school board meeting Monday night advocating for students to return to full-time in-person instruction.
“Their position is families are not able to deal with the mental health and academic issues students may have,” he said. “They were pretty adamant to see a full return.”
But Webb said the district is already going beyond the state’s recommendations by returning to some in-person instruction, adding a return to 100% capacity would eliminate the district’s ability to socially distance students.
“We are already outside the boundaries some,” he said. “… Once we return fully we will have no ability to social distance and very little ability to control the spread.”
Staff in the district will soon have the option to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Webb said the district was submitting its numbers for the vaccine on Tuesday and said it was possible teachers would receive their first dose of the two-phase vaccine within the next two weeks.
He said that would be a step toward a full return.
Whenever the district does move to full in-person learning, it will likely be done in phases beginning with the elementary schools.
Webb said district administrators will continue to monitor the spread of the coronavirus through the community before making any decisions to increase in-person learning.
“The biggest factor for us is to see an overall decline in the county’s case rates,” he said. “… All schools have to be careful, or else we could find ourselves back where we started.”