Rockbridge County Public Schools board approves return-to-school plan

By Zach England
Rockbridge County High School 10th-grader McKenzie Hines describes her feelings after six weeks of virtual school: “Defeated, upset, angry, missing out, and exhausted.”
And she’s not alone. Many of her peers feel burdened by heavier than usual workloads and staring at a computer screen all day. They also report a lack of resources, having to teach themselves and internet issues, among other challenges of online learning prompted by the pandemic.
McKenzie’s brother, Paden Hines has three online carpentry, auto tech and manufacturing systems(CTE) classes. The 10th-grader says he struggles to get the most out of the usually hands-on classes, plus the challenges of geometry and biology.
“I truly thought that I’d never be saying this, but I just want to go back to school,” he said. “I feel like given the chance to go to school at least two days a week, I could successfully learn and comprehend the work given.”

They’ll get that chance in November when the high school returns to in-person classes two days a week. The Rockbridge County School Board approved a plan to start bringing more students back to their four elementary schools and middle school, as well.

Maury River Middle School will start seeing students come back Nov. 10. Upon return, they will be split into two groups and have in-person classes two days a week with a virtual day on Fridays. Photo by Zach England.
Starting Nov. 10, second, third, sixth, and ninth graders will be split into two groups and go to school on either Monday-Tuesday or Wednesday-Thursday. Pre-K through first grade students have been in-person four days a week since they started in September and will continue with that schedule.
The remaining students will return Nov. 30 under the same hybrid model. Fridays will remain virtual for all. But families have the option to continue full-time online learning.
“Everyone wants kids in the building, and this is a slow, cautious way to do that, but we need to do it the right way,” superintendent Phillip Thompson said.
The district has set up enhanced cleaning protocols in all buildings using ultraviolet light to sanitize surfaces. Upgraded filters and other technology improvements were made to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Schools will require masks and mandate social distancing at all times. Hand washing and using hand sanitizer will be encouraged.
Students moving between classes should be smoother given the alternate school days. “A class exchange, four or five minutes, as long as kids are moving, we should be fine,” said Thompson.

This decision came after the Lexington City Schools board approved a return-to-school plan last week.

Rockbridge County High School students will be coming back into the building starting Nov. 10. Photo by Zach England.
In Lexington, students will return to classrooms in a phased approach by grade level starting Oct. 26. All students will be back to Harrington Waddell Elementary and Lylburn Downing Middle Schools Nov. 16.
They will spend four days a week in person with a virtual day on Fridays.
The two schools will be following the same safety precautions as Rockbridge schools –mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and using hand sanitizer, and deep cleaning buildings.
Both divisions were advised by Dr. Laura Kornegay, the district director of the Central Shenandoah Health District. She says these precautions do work to mitigate the risks of COVID-19.
“At this time, the classroom is not only a safe place to be,” she said, “but also a necessary environment for kids to be in.”