Richmond Times-Dispatch

Chesterfie­ld schools are returning to virtual mode

As COVID-19 cases surge, county reverses course on reopening plan

- BY JESS NOCERA

Chesterfie­ld County Public Schools will pull students from classrooms beginning Monday and return to remote learning until at least Jan. 29.

Wednesday’s decision comes as the county’s seven-day average of coronaviru­s cases per 100,000 people reached 26.5. Earlier this month, Chesterfie­ld schools Superinten­dent Merv Daugherty said in an email to staff that once the seven-day average hit a threshold of 25, the division would return to fulltime virtual learning.

The only students allowed back in the classroom will be select K-12 special education pupils, who number about 17,000.

The School Board will hold a special meeting Monday where a public health update will be provided, according to the school system news release.

With students home already for Thanksgivi­ng break, families can expect

Chesterfie­ld has had one of the most aggressive return- to- school plans in the region, despite many teachers repeatedly voicing concerns to remain virtual.

to receive additional informatio­n about the decision in the coming days. For virtual school start times, elementary schools will have three: 7:45 a.m., 8:30 a.m., or 9:25 a.m. Middle schools, besides Tomahawk Creek, will begin at 7:35 a.m. Tomahawk Creek will start at 8:30 a.m., the same time as all high schools.

“The increase in local COVID-19 cases has been swift,” the school system wrote in a news release. Barely a week ago on Nov. 17, Chesterfie­ld’s seven-day average was 20.2 cases.

Chesterfie­ld has had one of the most aggressive return-to-school plans in the region, despite many teachers repeatedly voicing concerns to remain virtual. This week, several teachers sent emails to the School Board asking for an emergency meeting ahead of Thanksgivi­ng break to make the call and not send students back.

Last week, Henrico County Public Schools reversed its course on expanding in-person learning, delaying the Nov. 30 rollout to January. Hanover County brought students back full time Sept. 8, while Richmond Public Schools will remain virtual at least through the beginning of 2021.

A Chesterfie­ld school spokesman did not respond to an email about how the decision affects high school sports. Some winter sports teams can begin practice Dec. 7 and start playing games on Dec. 21 under the Virginia High School League’s revised schedule.

Chesterfie­ld school staff who support students in Cohort 1, select special education students, “will work from their school building,” schools spokesman Tim Bullis wrote in an email to staff that was obtained by The Times-Dispatch.

It remains unclear if all other teachers will be allowed to teach from their respective homes, for in his email, Bullis wrote, “teachers may teach virtually from their classrooms to take advantage of the instructio­nal materials and technology available in their school.”

“Other school-based staff members should coordinate work locations with their principals,” Bullis added.

Nearly a dozen Chesterfie­ld teachers who spoke to The Times-Dispatch on background for fear of retributio­n shared similar accounts of being denied their request to teach virtually under the Americans with Disabiliti­es Act.

Three weeks shy of Thanksgivi­ng, approximat­ely 34,000 students in sixth through 12th grades had the opportunit­y to return to school. This final push joined the nearly 28,600 students who had returned to their respective schools in clusters.

The decision to send back all middle and high schoolers sent waves through the Chesterfie­ld school community because the health committee charged with deciding when groups of students should return went against its own metrics for keeping people safe.

The committee’s three coronaviru­s metrics were the sevenday average of cases, case positivity rate and school readiness.

There have been 8,942 confirmed COVID- 19 cases in Chesterfie­ld, with 483 hospitaliz­ations and 128 deaths attributed to the virus, according to VDH.

 ?? TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Elizabeth Schill’s children, Justice Calix (left) and Trace Bell, attend Chesterfie­ld County schools.
TIMES-DISPATCH Elizabeth Schill’s children, Justice Calix (left) and Trace Bell, attend Chesterfie­ld County schools.

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