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Chesterfield School District Lays Out Options For Fall Learning

James River High School
As a countermeasure for families who still want their children to remain in virtual school this fall, the district is offering alternatives, broken down by K-8 and 9-12th grades. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Now that vaccination has been offered to every teacher who wants protection against the coronavirus, and an almost semester’s worth of in-person classes completed, officials say they're ready to welcome all students back to buildings when school starts  in August. But for families who aren’t ready, the district is proposing two alternatives depending on grade level. 

On Tuesday, the school board heard guidelines from Sharon Pope, Chief Academic Officer and Lisa High, Chief of Schools, during a presentation on face-to-face instruction.  

“Although we want our students back in [a] face to face setting, we understand that there will be some families who will not feel comfortable returning their children to the brick and mortar setting,” High said.

Some of the reasons Pope and High say in-person learning is important include mental and social-emotional needs; the loss of academic learning in both math and reading due to virtual learning, which coincides with a rise in teacher-issued “F” grades than in previous years.

And then there’s the time gap. 

“Some students will return to us in August, not having set foot in one of our classrooms for approximately 17 months,” Pope said. 

Pope added that there will also be some students who have never set foot in a school building at all. She said that students will need time to acclimate themselves to school routines.

Officials say come next fall, all the schools will continue to have appropriate mitigation strategies, such as cleaning and ventilation standards developed during the pandemic, and they’ll continue to enforce current health guidelines, including mask wearing and physical distancing recommendations of three feet. 

Virtual Offerings

As a countermeasure for families who still want their children to remain in virtual school, the district is offering alternatives, broken down by K-8 and 9-12th grades. 

For the elementary students, the district is creating a Virtual Academy, which looks similar to what online students are experiencing now: daily interaction with teachers, guided assignments with the expectations of grades, daily resource classes such as P.E., library and music, and recess. 

“The goal here is to offer a robust learning experience for students who attend the academy,” High said.

But what will be different this go-round is that students will be taught by teachers who aren’t necessarily from the students’ home school. 

Middle and high school students will be given the option of taking self-directed classes at CCPS Online. The program has been in place for 15 years said Pope and has established teachers in place. It was created to provide a high school diploma for students who are unable to fulfill their goals in a traditional high school. It also includes select middle school courses

Also, specialized programs, such as center-based gifted services, which allow students advanced courses, will not be offered online.

It’s still unclear how many students will walk through school doors in fall. In two recent stories by VPM, the number of students who opted to return to in-person classes varied significantly between elementary and secondary schools for when school restarted after the holiday break. 

There are 39 elementary schools in the county. Out of that 39, 21 schools showed more than half would return to in-person classes. According to officials at the time, that number was 13,896 elementary students from across the district.

But at the higher grade levels, the school district said more students will be learning from home.

According to data from Chesterfield County Public Schools, over 20,000 secondary students planned to stick with virtual learning. And the majority of them are in high school. Chesterfield currently has over 60,000 students, which is lower than last year due the fallout from the pandemic.

The board is in the process of collecting information on what students and families want to do next year, said Tim Bullis, executive director of communications in an email. 

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal next month. Families will then have to pick an option by June 1.


Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News. He also produces and hosts the World Music Show for VPM Music — now in its 16th season. You can often find him riding his bike around Chesterfield County or on Virginia's Capital Trail. Stewart has won multiple Regional Edward R. Murrow and Virginia's AP Broadcasters awards for reporting and sound editing. He graduated from San Francisco State University with degrees in journalism and creative writing.