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Amherst school board approves new start times, return to five-day school week
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Amherst school board approves new start times, return to five-day school week

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Amherst County’s 2021-22 school year will see the high school and middle schools return to starting the school day around 8 a.m. while elementary schools will start at 9 a.m., a reversal from the start times in place this current school year.

The Amherst County School Board last week approved the move to have secondary schools start earlier and elementary schools begin the school day an hour later. In this current school year is wrapping up this month, elementary school students started the day earlier while secondary students began later in a format where decisions were heavily driven by reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that the pandemic’s effects are easing up, the schools are seeking to return to a pre-pandemic setup as much as possible.

Superintendent Rob Arnold said of 1,200 people surveyed about the 2021-22 school year, 53% said they wanted secondary students to start the day at 8 a.m. and 47% favored elementary schools opening first. Arnold added 57% of staff in the survey favored keeping the current system of elementary school starting earlier.

“Most of the emails I have gotten support what the data is showing,” board member Chris Terry said of favoring secondary schools opening earlier.

“I’m glad we’ve got this data to help make the decision,” board member John Grieser added.

The board also approved the 2021-22 return to school plan that reinstates in-person learning five days a week at all schools. In the current school year elementary schools had in-person learning four days a week while secondary schools were hybrid with two days each of in-person and remote learning for many students.

The division is discontinuing the Amherst Remote Academy, which was set up to accommodate a large number of students who took part in learning outside of school, but will continue the virtual option through a state program.

Arnold said the division will cover the tuition costs of all students who take part in the state virtual program and they are eligible to take part in extracurricular activities in person.

Students will continue wearing face masks indoors as long as the state mandates the requirement, Arnold said. They are not required outdoors.

“Every time those restrictions are lessened we will lessen,” Arnold said of the division following the state’s orders.

The division has posted the 2021-22 plan for safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services on its website that outlines the many strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

“Looking back on the 2020-21 school year, Amherst County led the way in bringing back all students whose families chose in-person learning,” the plan states. “Our priority was to ensure the physical and social-emotional well being of all students, while providing the most effective and supportive instruction possible as we navigated through the change of the pandemic.”

As in-person instruction returns to five days a week, ACPS will continue to provide a safe, effective and equitable learning environment for all students, families and employees, the plan states.

Priscilla Liggon, the board’s chair, said 2020-21 is “definitely going to go down in history” as a year no one will ever forget for its many challenges but she is thankful employees affected by the virus survived and no child died.

All decisions, including the upcoming start times, are made in the students’ best interests, Liggon added. “We are trying to do what is best for the entire county.”

In other news: Arnold announced Marvin McGinnis, who since 2014 has served as principal of Madison Heights Elementary School, has been appointed as the division’s newly implemented supervisor of innovation and learning. The central office position was set up to begin this current school year but the division held back back a year when COVID-19 created much uncertainty in last year’s budget process, Arnold said. McGinnis has 30 years experience in education, including 24 years as an administrator. “We are extremely excited to get that innovation ball rolling for Amherst County [schools],” Arnold said.

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