CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Chesapeake Public Schools officials say all option 1 students — those who have chosen in-person learning — will begin to return to campus as planned on Jan. 19, and teachers in the district can volunteer for the COVID-19 vaccine as early as Wednesday, Jan. 13.
The Chesapeake School Board met Monday night to discuss the division’s return-to-school plan amid a rise in local coronavirus cases.
The board’s decision means elementary students will be on the traditional five-day in-person learning model, while secondary students will be on a blended model of some in-person and virtual instruction.
Superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton said the School Health Advisory Board doesn’t see any medical reason that should prevent students from returning to classrooms under the same learning models and strict mitigation measures that were in place prior to winter break.
All grades temporarily went to a 100% remote learning model after winter break in an effort to lessen the impact of coronavirus cases once students return to campuses following the holidays.
As of Monday morning, Chesapeake’s percent positivity rate was at 23%. Cotton said CPS can’t base decisions on locality-based metrics alone since the numbers aren’t an accurate reflection of what’s happening in schools. He said the district is able to implement key mitigation strategies in schools that health officials have identified as effective in limiting the spread of the virus.
The district added more mitigation measures like campus health and safety audits and additional personal protective equipment for staff members who work in close proximity to students.
About two dozen speakers signed up for public comment during the meeting. Many included present and former educators who are concerned about the risk of opening schools.
“You are going to be facing a serious shortage of teachers next year. We are made to feel guilty because we don’t want to get sick or get our family sick,” said one woman.
Meanwhile, the school board voted unanimously to cancel high school winter sports, per Cotton’s recommendation.
Cotton said the district isn’t confident it can implement the same level of mitigation measures that are provided in schools that they feel are needed to keep student-athletes safe.
“We still need some more time to work through that because we know how important it is, and we really want to make this happen for our students,” Cotton said.
A recommendation on fall athletics will be presented at the end of January during the board’s next meeting.
Officials also say employees will start receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The district appears to be the first in Hampton Roads to have gotten access to the vaccine. Virginia started the 1b round of vaccinations, which includes teachers, this week in select health districts across the state, but not on a large scale in Hampton Roads.
The vaccine is voluntary and distribution is expected to continue over the next few weeks. The first round includes 1,400 doses and will be administered first to group A.
Additional vaccine clinics will be held Jan. 25 and Feb. 15. The second doses will be given about four weeks later, the division said.
Group A includes all therapists, health services employees, nutrition services employees, lower-grade employees, special education teachers and more.
“Our schools play an important role in our community, one that is very multifaceted. Families rely on our schools to educate and guide our children, but also to provide access to healthy meals and other support services that are vital to the growth and development of our community’s children. I am pleased that we are able to provide access to this vaccine to Chesapeake’s school employees so soon and I am confident this additional measure will help in our fight to limit the spread of the disease in our community,” said Dr. Nancy Welch, Chesapeake Health Department director.
Cotton said the vaccine will add another layer of protection, calling it a “game changer.”
Employees received registration information Monday afternoon.