Prince George schools keep in-person option for families while others go virtual

By Zach Armstrong

PRINCE GEORGE, Va -- As coronavirus cases continue to rise nationwide and across the commonwealth, the Prince George County School Division is still giving families a hybrid option of either online or in-person teaching.

“Based on our health data, our school community remains healthy thanks to the mitigation efforts laid out in our health plan, paired with the required use of face coverings inside school buildings, physical distancing, and frequent disinfection within our facilities. Our staff and families have supported these strategies and help us continue to educate our children during this extraordinary time safely.” said Pennycuff.

Numerous other schools in the commonwealth have moved recently to delay in-person learning to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and possibly allow time for teachers to receive the vaccine.

On Jan. 12, the Dinwiddie County Public School Board voted to temporarily switch to all virtual learning from Jan. 14-29 after school officials said they are now seeing “an overwhelming number” of students and staff members out with COVID-19 and exposures while community spread increases.

While the Henrico County School Board previously allowed students to return the week of Jan. 11, the board announced a delay to return to in-person learning and that pre-k and elementary school students will be allowed to return in-person on Jan. 25.

The Chesterfield School Board, however, voted on Jan.12 to re-open classrooms for elementary students beginning Feb. 1.

Of the 6,056 students enrolled in Prince George Schools, 2,933 are learning in-person while 3,123 are receiving instruction virtually.

“Following our Second Semester Instructional Selection period for our families, we expect the number of students learning in-person and virtually to change once the second semester begins in February.” said Division Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff.

PGCPS has also made efforts to assure all families that wish to stay at-home have access to the internet. Funding from the CARES Act appropriated by the Prince George County Board of Supervisors in 2020 has let Prince George Schools purchase thousands of Chromebooks that have made it into the hands of students in need of technological assistance.

“Before the start of each semester this school year, we have asked our families about their level of access to the internet and technology.” said Pennycuff. “This information helped us develop a plan to purchase thousands of computers and other technology-supporting devices to help our students during this extraordinary time in education”.

For students on virtual instruction who do not have access to reliable internet service, the school division provides internet hotspots that can be used to connect to online services and support their learning needs from home. Additionally, wi-fi internet capabilities were expanded at Prince George schools to allow families of virtual learners to download work to their device, and access other learning supports from wherever their location is.

“Since we welcomed students back to campus during our Elementary Summer Academy in July 2020 for the first time since the March 2020 closure, our school division has worked closely with the Prince George Health Department and the Crater Health District.” said Pennycuff. “We will continue to closely monitor the health of our community and work collaboratively with local and state health officials to make the best decisions when it comes to instructional offerings to the children of Prince George County.”