Chesterfield elementary students to return Feb. 1
School Board OKs in-person learning for county’s youngest
Chesterfield County elementary schoolers are welcome back into the classroom five days a week starting Feb. 1.
In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Chesterfield School Board approved bringing all of the county’s youngest learners back into school buildings after the district abruptly switched back to virtual learning on Nov. 30.
School Board member Dot Heffron voted against the return-to-school plan, stating she remains committed to basing her decisions on data, science and common sense.
“I respect that there is a deep divide over this issue and I know we all want what is best for our students and community at large. We have tried the hybrid rollout and we’ve seen it result in fits and starts, each one a disruption
to our students and teachers. We cannot wing it as we go, causing new disruptions with each new pivot opening and closing [and] juggling cohorts,” Heffron said ahead of her vote Tuesday night.
Middle and high school students will remain in a virtual learning environment on Feb. 1, the start of the third marking period, with school officials planning to reintroduce these pupils back into their respective schools at some point during the marking period. Middle and high school students in various career and technical programs will be welcomed back to school buildings Feb. 1.
Students staying home will see their virtual learning days increase to a full five-day week. No classes currently are held Wednesdays, which are filled with morning meetings, teacher planning, conferences with parents and/or students, and professional development.
After returning students to school in waves throughout the fall for hybrid learning, the school district reverted to virtual learning after Thanksgiving break for all students, with the exception of about 1,000 select K-12 special education pupils, in response to the county’s seven-day average of coronavirus cases per 100,000 surpassing a threshold of 25.
Chesterfield’s sevenday average of cases per 100,000 now sits at 44.3 cases.
School officials on Tuesday backed up their reasoning for having students back in the classroom.
“From the beginning, we’ve looked a lot at the Harvard Global Health Institute and we’ve relied a lot on their data and recommendations. Back in July they were the group that came forward and said, 25 cases per 100,000 residents is a point at which you should shut down schools and in December of 2020 they came back and said … if you can focus on the mitigation strategies for infection control and you’re successful with those, which the county has been, you’re in a position to reopen schools,” Tim Bullis, a Chesterfield schools spokesman, said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Chesterfield has adopted several mitigation strategies, such as wearing masks, socially distancing (the target is 6 feet but 3 feet will be allowed), contract tracing, cleaning of school buildings, selfhealth assessments and hand/respiratory hygiene.
On some school buses, students may be sitting side by side, including nonsiblings. Windows on buses will be lowered when deemed weather-appropriate.
School Board member Kathryn Haines pushed back on the bus protocols, referencing Harvard’s report that bus windows must be opened by at least 3 inches. She encouraged the community to drive students to school if able.
“My support of this plan is contingent on strong mitigation, which includes strong adequate contract tracing in place by Feb. 1 and maintaining one kid per seat on a bus under higher conditions of spread, Haines said.
Dominique Chatters, who has four children under the age of 10 attending Chesterfield schools, spoke during public comment against sending students back into the classroom, referring to the allowance of a 3-foot distance with schools at full capacity, but not allowing a 3-foot distance during hybrid.
“If you are using other counties as a reference point, are you using ones with a similar student population, similar demographics as far as race, age, age of the facilities, size of their classrooms, averages of the teachers, the staff, the culinary team, the bus drivers? If you haven’t, you cannot cherry-pick which statistic you want to follow because it supports your position,” Chatters said.
Reading a letter signed by 754 parents, teachers, school staff and community members, Chesterfield parent Carolyn Ferraro said that the signees request that the full five-day return process begin. Citing various news stories and health articles, the letter states that students are struggling academically and are experiencing negative physical and socio-emotional impacts.
Sonia Smith, president of the Chesterfield Education Association, called for the School Board to vote on sending elementary students back into the classrooms, safely.
“The vaccine is at our doorstep. Allow the dissemination of the vaccine to reach all employees so that we can all return safely. If Henrico Public Schools can decide to wait until their employees are vaccinated before returning to instruction then CCPS can vote to do the same thing this evening,” Smith said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Henrico County schools Superintendent Amy Cashwell again delayed plans to return students to the classrooms, with no concrete timeline as to when the return will occur. With Henrico teachers set to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning next week, school nurses will temporarily be pulled to administer the vaccines.
In other business, School Board member Ryan Harter became chair and fellow member Ann Coker became vice chair. They will hold these positions until next January. email@example.com