VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — An already thinned workforce is under pressure following the holiday season.

The Virginia Beach Education Association reports more than 160 teachers calling out across the district’s middle and high schools on Monday.

In a statement to 10 On Your Side, a spokeswoman for Virginia Beach City Public Schools confirmed they had anticipated a high number of staff absences on Tuesday. They did not mention Monday’s absences.

We did see a high number of teacher absences yesterday. I do not have data at this time regarding whether or not these absences were COVID/illness related. Luckily, we had planned for this to be the case and deployed central office staff to support schools who needed it. We know that our schools are the safest places for our students to be and we are committed to keeping our students in school and learning five days a week. That said, modifications may be necessary as we navigate staff absences. Learning will continue no matter what the venue.

Natalie Allen
Chief Communications and Community Engagement Officer
Virginia Beach City Public Schools

VBCPS isn’t the only school district impacted by shortages. It’s an issue being felt nationwide. Most recently, the Virginia Department of Education allocated $12 million to a variety of programs for teacher recruitment and retention efforts.

Virginia Beach is not a recipient of any of the funds.

Virginia Beach Education Association president Kathleen Slinde says the mass call-out highlighted the need for more substitutes.

“It’s bad. We count on our substitute pool. We need them desperately in the best of times,” said Slinde.

Despite a recent $30 a day increase, Slinde says a call for 166 subs went out on Monday and there weren’t enough subs to answer it. Some teachers are able to step in to help during their planning hours, but say it can create an unsustainable cycle.

“That’s another huge factor for teachers that adds stress,” she said. “Because in order to cover a classroom, everybody wants to be a team player, everybody wants to help out… but if you get called out of your planning, then how do you make that up? You have to make that up outside of classroom hours.”

The substitute shortage can also translate into some students having to spend time in supervised cafeterias instead of classrooms.

“I know it’s happening,” said Slinde. “That is indeed happening. Because, if you think about it, if we have students, if we have teachers out… There’s a classroom of students that are assigned to them in a physical location. I can’t just take those students and put them into another classroom where a teacher is present because then we lose our social distancing.”

“So in order to keep the social distancing and keep everyone safe, then the cafeteria is a large area where that could happen. It’s not the best possible situation. It’s what we can do for now right.”

Apply for a job with VBCPS by clicking here.

The following message was sent to VBCPS families and staff on Wednesday evening:

Thank you for your patience as we have been working in earnest with the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health (VBDPH) to sort through the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its impact on schools. As promised in an earlier communication, we have an update for you, but first, I want to address some of the concerns I have heard from families across the school division.

While we know that in-person instruction is best for our students and we continue to be committed to keeping our schools open five days a week, we also understand the concern some parents and staff are feeling as COVID-19 cases surge in our area and across the nation. We have had many questions about why we haven’t considered a temporary switch to virtual learning. As a reminder, state law no longer allows us to move to virtual instruction as a school division. We are limited to making those decisions on a school-by-school, classroom-by-classroom basis. That said, our focus continues to be on keeping schools open and keeping our students and staff as safe as possible while they are in our buildings. Data collected in cooperation with VBDPH indicates that even when community positivity rates are at their highest, transmission rates in our schools are significantly lower due to our layered preventions strategies.

Should any short-term closures of classrooms or schools be necessary, those decisions will be made in consultation with the VBDPH. In the case that this is required, you will be contacted by your school. Please remember that your children should be bringing their laptops and chargers home from school every day in the event we need to make a switch temporarily.

IMPORTANT HEALTH UPDATES AND REMINDERS:

Updated protocols regarding quarantine and isolation based on new CDC guidance:

Starting Monday, Jan. 10, elementary and middle school students who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been advised to quarantine will now be able to return to school after five days of isolation or quarantine if they are asymptomatic or have been fever-free for more than 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing drugs and can effectively wear a mask. Those who have a mask waiver (and therefore cannot effectively wear a mask) will continue to isolate or quarantine for 10 days.

As a reminder, high school students who are asymptomatic are not required to quarantine from classes no matter their vaccination status. High school students who have tested positive for COVID-19 will now be able to return to school after five days of isolation as long as they are asymptomatic or have been fever-free for more than 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing drugs and are able to wear a mask effectively. Students participating in athletics or conditioning may not participate in these activities during the 10 days following the onset of symptoms (isolation period) or 10 days following their last close contact exposure (if they are unvaccinated or have not had COVID-19 in the last 90 days) due to their inability to wear a mask effectively during play.

Staff who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been advised to quarantine will also be able to return to work after five days of quarantine or isolation as long as they are asymptomatic or have been fever-free for more than 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing drugs and are able to wear a mask effectively. As a reminder, fully-vaccinated employees, as well as employees who have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days and are asymptomatic after a COVID-19 exposure, are already exempt from quarantine. Employees must still contact their supervisor if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic.

If you have already been given a return to work/school date that is 10 days in length, you may now shorten this to five days, given that you meet the requirements outlined above.

To calculate your five-day isolation period, day zero is your first day of symptoms. Day one is the first full day after your symptoms develop. For example, if your symptoms started Jan. 4, you are able to return to work Jan. 10 as long as you are no longer exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

If you received a positive COVID-19 result but are asymptomatic, the isolation period starts from the day after the COVID-19 test was taken.

Now is the time to get your COVID-19 booster:

The CDC has also recommended that a booster for eligible individuals be required in order to be considered exempt from quarantine. At this time, our plan remains that you are exempt from quarantine two weeks after you have received two doses of an mRNA vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson. You are also exempt from quarantine if you have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days.

Starting Feb. 21, we plan to require a booster shot in order for individuals to be considered exempt from quarantine in accordance with the guidance above. This means that in order to be considered exempt from quarantine, individuals who are eligible for a booster must receive the shot on or before Feb. 7.

The VBDPH is offering COVID-19 vaccination clinics at some of our schools between Jan. 6 and Feb. 15. For more information or to register for a clinic, please refer to the notice that was sent to you Dec. 20, or click here to find a vaccination clinic.

Whether you are a student, parent, teacher or other member of our VBCPS staff, we continue to ask—and it is critically important—that you check to be sure you are not exhibiting any of the symptoms of COVID-19 before coming to work or school. Symptoms include:

Fever or chills
Cough
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Fatigue
Muscle or body aches
Headache
New loss of taste or smell
Sore throat
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
Diarrhea

Students with COVID-like symptoms will be able to access learning through their learning management system. Students who are quarantined or isolated, but who access work daily will be counted as present. Please contact your child’s school to ensure communication regarding schoolwork during this time.

Temporary modification to contact tracing efforts:

Because of the surge in COVID-19 cases in Virginia Beach, contact tracing efforts by VBDPH and our Health Services team need to be temporarily modified. At this time, we are focusing on following up with known positive cases and with families and staff who have reached out and are seeking guidance because they have tested positive for COVID-19, are symptomatic, or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19. This is a temporary modification to our process, and we will resume our usual procedures as soon as possible. In the meantime, our dashboard will continue to be updated and families and staff will continue to get letters informing them of cases identified in school buildings.

Employees who were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace on or after Jan. 3 and are either required to quarantine or go on to develop symptoms (and who are unable to work remotely) should complete the Request for Division Paid Leave (DPL) due to a COVID-19 Work-Related Exposure, which can be found on the employee intranet site in the coming days. The form must be submitted to the Office of Employee Relations at CovidLeave@vbschools.com. After receiving the completed form, the Office of Employee Relations will determine eligibility for Division Paid Leave (DPL). Please note, employees may be expected to use their own sick leave until a determination can be made.

Masking and hand hygiene:

Please make sure that your child has plenty of well-fitting masks and remind your child to wash their hands when possible throughout the school day and at home. This is just part of our collective plan to #VBSafeTogether, which means getting vaccinated, wearing a face-covering, washing hands, keeping socially distant and staying home when sick.

Again, we appreciate your patience as we navigate this pandemic and the new challenges it continues to send our way. We anticipate that there will be further clarification coming from CDC in the near future. As always, we will update you as soon as we have more information.

Thanks for your support of Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

Take care,
Aaron Spence
Superintendent