Chesapeake parents seeking more transparency, consistency from school board


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Parents of students in Chesapeake are asking for more transparency from the school board.

Members of an advocacy group, Chesapeake Advocates for Responsible Return to School, reached out to 10 On Your Side after seeing that COVID-19 metrics, the “Responsive Return to School Plan,” and safety audits of Chesapeake Public Schools were not on the agenda for Monday night’s school board meeting.

“We are still in the thick of this pandemic. It is no time for us to be taking our eyes off the ball,” said Samantha Lester, who runs Chesapeake Advocates for Responsible Return to School.

Lester said she wants to see more transparency and consistency from the school board.

Via email, a Chesapeake School Division spokesperson said “continued progress” of the schools is still shared with the board, although certain items aren’t listed specifically. Monday night’s meeting included continued efforts to vaccinate employees, the new guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control, where to find the latest recommendations from the School Health Advisory Board, and fall athletics.

Some speakers addressed the board at their meeting Monday night saying they want changes made to the division’s plan.

Option 1 students have been in face-to-face learning for over a month now, however some people feel the division needs to reevaluate its reopening plan following recently updated guidance from the CDC.

Speakers Monday night pointed to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, specifically pointing out social distancing of 6 feet.

“Where are you going to put these students returning to face-to-face? Classrooms are already overcrowded at the elementary level,” said one woman.

Some speakers at the meeting also said they wanted more transparency from the School Health Advisory Board also known as SHAB. SHAB is made up of parents, private and public health officials, social service representatives and others. Some speakers said they wanted a full copy of minutes from those meetings to be made available to the public.

“How did you select them? Who is the selection authority? What are their qualifications?” one woman asked the board.

Retired Chesapeake teacher Lynn Davidson agrees. She has been helping her granddaughter with virtual school.

“I’d like to see the — like I said — the updates from the School Health Advisory Board,” Davidson told 10 On Your Side ahead of the meeting. “We finally got them to post their minutes, but actually it’s just a summary.”

Superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton said CPS created a website last week that shows the members of SHAB, their considerations from meetings and an email address to contact the advisory board.

“Keep in mind, they’re an advisory group that advises me and the school board to make the final decisions and they’re volunteers,” Cotton said. “It’s not their job. It’s our job to make decisions based on advice they provide us.

Davidson and Lester also want to see the board address the new CDC guidance for schools, which was released on Feb. 12.

“The suggestions from the CDC are coming from our leading public health experts in our country and there’s no reason why we should not be following their recommendations,” Lester said.

At the meeting Monday night, Cotton said CPS is carefully considering the updated CDC guidance and he’s reminding the public, these aren’t mandates.

Cotton said they’re waiting for updated guidance from the Virginia Department of Health as well.

“Ultimately school divisions decide, with lots of other information on decisions on how they have in person instruction,” Cotton said. “It’s a very complex decision that has to be made.”

Cotton also updated the board on employee vaccinations.

He said 2,000 second doses will be administered this week. CPS is waiting for 1,000 more doses that were delayed due to the winter weather.

We’re told once finished, about 4,400 employees out of roughly 6,000 will be vaccinated. 

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