Alexandria, VA

Even as Alexandria City Public Schools is preparing for an online start to the school year at T.C. Williams High School, nearby private school started in-person classes again today (Wednesday).

Bishop Ireton High School (201 Cambridge Road) is a private Catholic high school that is reopening today with a mix of in-person classes and online participation.

The school is using a hybrid model similar to the one considered by ACPS before the school decided on an entirely virtual approach. In part, the hybrid model was dismissed due to logistical concerns. This is less of a problem at the Bishop Ireton — which is only 1/5 the size of T.C. Williams High School.

The new structure includes both in-person classes and synchronous remote learning. According to the school’s phased plan document, half the student body will be at school in-person on a rotating schedule of alphabetically grouped students. The students will be at the school for in-person instruction for 2 consecutive week days, while the other half of the student body will be onsite the other two consecutive days.

“This schedule rotation will continue according to the school calendar for as long as we must operate on a reduced number of people onsite,” the school said. “Student groups are determined alphabetically by last name (A-K Group 1, L-Z Group 2). Conditions allowing, three lunch periods will be provided each day in the cafeteria with cleaning and sanitizing in between lunch sessions.”

While ACPS has pursued an option that includes asynchronous learning, Bishop Ireton will require all students to attend classes in real-time whether in-person or working remotely.

“They are expected to be both present and engaged in learning during scheduled class times,” the school said. “Attendance will be maintained through the Blackbaud portal system. Student attendance will be checked and verified for in-person attendance and virtual attendance by the teacher in each class, beginning with the first class at 7:55 a.m.”

The school also said remote learning exceptions and teleworking will be allowed for students and staff with high risk factors.

“Families with significant concerns or needs regarding their student’s return to in-person learning must submit a formal written request to the Principal to remain in continuous remote learning,” the school said. “These requests cannot be intermittent daily changes, but rather the decision for the duration of the ongoing learning plan. Once the individual remote plan is in place, a student must stay fully remote through the quarter. A change can be requested once the quarter has ended.”

The plan says that classrooms will have no more than 20 students, with desks spaced six feet apart. Facemasks are required for indoor common areas, but a recent change to the document said teachers will have discretion on whether or not to require masks to be worn in class.

In the event of a student or staff member testing positive for COVID-19, the school said it will notify all students, staff and contractors within 24 hours.

While Alexandria’s COVID-19 numbers are down from the worst of the pandemic in the early summer, there remain outbreak sites like one at a West End church last week. Some experts have warned that school reopenings are connected to a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

“This August certainly brings added questions and concerns as the new school year approaches,” Kathleen McNutt, head of the school, said in a statement to families and staff at the school. “As much as we prepare, train, create strong safety protocols in the school building, implement rules at home for social distancing and remote learning, etc., the unknown is still there. This is where our theme for the year begins to speak to us: ‘Even though everything turns and changes around us, our hearts must remain unchanging and ever looking, striving and aspiring toward God.’ As we look forward to a new academic year and all the challenges that may come our way, let us renew our trust in God, whose love for us remains unchanging, and who continues to call us to advance always in peace and hope.”

Photo via Bishop Ireton/Facebook

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