Richmond Times-Dispatch

Henrico again postpones its return to classrooms

School nurses will be busy administer­ing vaccine to employees

- BY KENYA HUNTER

After saying last week that she did not anticipate a delay, Henrico County schools Superinten­dent

Amy Cashwell on Tuesday again pushed back plans to return students to classrooms, with no timeline for changing course.

In a statement, Cashwell said Henrico school nurses are temporaril­y being pulled to help administer the COVID-19 vaccine to the county’s school employees and others who are eligible under Phase 1b. Without them in school buildings, she doesn’t think the system could properly mitigate spread of COVID-19 in schools.

This is the third time the county has pushed back returning students to classrooms.

“Having schools with no nurses present would result in staffing levels that won’t meet our expectatio­ns for implementi­ng the HCPS COVID-19 Health Plan for larger numbers of students,”

Cashwell said in an email to staff.

HCPS teachers are set to start receiving vaccines as early as next week. Because vaccines require two doses three weeks apart, nurses would be needed for at least several weeks.

“I share your heartache and frustratio­n over the continuous delays to our timelines, and I know how important it is for our students to have access to in-person learning,” she stated. “However, in light of this new phase in our battle against coronaviru­s, I know that we are choosing the right path forward for our employees, our students and our community.”

District spokespers­on Andy Jenks has previously said that 17,924 students in the district opted to return to school.

The third delay comes as the “HCPS Back to School Safely” group, a Facebook group with more than 2,600 members, demanded a return be delayed until all teachers are fully vaccinated.

Ryan Burgess, an administra­tor for the Facebook group and a Henrico teacher, said at least 1,000 people have signed a petition in support of the delay.

A virtual half day for students will still begin on Jan. 22, and limited in-person instructio­n for special education, English Language Learners, Career and Technical students, and some pre-K students will remain as is, Cashwell said.

On Oct. 22, the Henrico School Board voted 4-1 to expand in-person learning. On Nov. 16, Cashwell delayed those plans until early January due to skyrocketi­ng COVID-19 cases.

On Tuesday, Henrico reported 171 new cases of COVID-19, according to state Health Department data. The county has seen 14,738 to date.

At the Henrico health committee’s recommenda­tion, Cashwell last week announced a third delay for elementary school students whose families chose in-person school, citing a holiday surge in COVID-19 cases. Those students were supposed to head back into classrooms on Jan. 25.

Cashwell said to make up for lost learning, the district is looking at an optional in-person summer school program.

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