CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The Chesapeake School Board voted Monday night to move all Option 1 students who have been learning in-person to remote learning after winter break.
Three of the nine board members voted against the change during the board meeting Monday.
The recommendation was made by the superintendent in response to a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.
The decision means all students will be learning from home from Jan. 4 through Jan. 15.
It will allow 18 calendar days between New Year’s Day and the first day back on-campus Jan. 19. Based on data, the district feels this will lessen the impact of COVID-19 when on-campus instruction resumes.
Superintendent Dr .Jared Cotton said the district hopes to avoid what happened after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“What we learned was we had a sharp number of quarantines because we had staff and students who came into school with cases outside of school,” Cotton said.
The CPS School Health Advisory Board and the Chesapeake health department also recommended the brief return to virtual instruction.
Chesapeake schools have seen a significant number of new coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, 120 for data as of Monday, Dec. 14, although not from spread inside the schools, officials said. The district updates their COVID-19 dashboard daily at 4 p.m., and it will include more information moving forward.
The number of students and staff in quarantine will now be available to the public. It’ll also include the number of students on each campus.
Cotton said it’s important to note that quarantine does not mean positive case.
“If there’s a chance they think they might be exposed, we err on the side of caution and we put those students and staff members on quarantine,” he said.
This information will help determine if a class, section, or entire school needs to move online. However, that process and whether it should even happen is still up for debate.
“The school board assured us that if the positivity rate increased to 10%, we would move to virtual instruction. That did not happen,” said one parent, who addressed the board during a public comment period.
Students also spoke to the board.
“We made a choice at the beginning of the year to stay home or go back, and that’s being taken away from us. We understood the risk when we signed up, so let us take it,” said a sophomore CPS student.
More than 35 schools and other support buildings in the district have reported cases in the past two weeks, including 12 cases at Western Branch High. Primary schools are still on a 5-day a week in-person “traditional” model, while middle schools and high schools are on a blend of on-campus and online learning.
Butts Road Intermediate actually needed help from staff at other schools recently after a high number of students and teachers were out quarantining.
Research has shown that schools, with proper coronavirus guidelines in place, haven’t been linked to major outbreaks, with transmission rates especially low for younger students. Though that doesn’t mean children can’t get the coronavirus, get sick and pass it on to others.
But the region, and the United States, weren’t experiencing the overall virus levels that they are currently. The Hampton Roads area is reporting 663 new cases per day, nearly 200 cases per day more on average than the previous surge in the region in July.
“We’re hopeful our families will work with us and monitor their travel out of the area so that hopefully we can all stay in school. It’s really all of us working together,” Cotton said.
The city is currently at a 12.3% positivity rate for coronavirus tests, showing uncontrolled spread, and its case incidence rate is in the “highest risk” category, per CDC guidelines.
The district also announced it’s extending the pause on all athletics through the week of Jan. 4. Final recommendations for the winter athletics season will be presented to the school community at the Monday, January 11 school board meeting.
Sports in the district were placed on a one–week pause last Wednesday while a team reviews and reassess mitigation strategies.
The Virginia High School League had said it would require athletes to wear masks during practice and competition but announced Monday it would not, citing confusion over Gov. Ralph Northam’s coronavirus guidelines. Northam’s executive order does not apply to “individuals exercising or using exercise equipment.”
Virginia Beach Schools last week decided to switch to fully virtual instruction due to rising cases in their city.