Hampton teachers, staff rally for safe return to campus ahead of in-person learning


HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — “Only when it’s safe”: That’s been the mantra shared by educators across Hampton Roads as schools decide when to begin in-person learning.

Some students in Hampton City Schools are set to go back next week but several teachers feel it’s too risky.

Teachers and staff tell 10 On Your Side they want to be back in the classroom but they also feel the district is rushing its “Return to Learn” plan.

The superintendent said the plan balances safety while supporting kids who might be struggling with virtual learning.

Wearing red and waving signs, members of the Hampton Education Association showed up in force outside the Hampton City Schools administration building Wednesday.

Many of the teachers at the rally said the district isn’t listening to their concerns, so they made sure their message was heard Wednesday afternoon.

“We want to open, believe me — but we want to do it when it’s safe,” said Aleta Spencer, a Hampton City Schools special education teacher.

Pre-K through third grade,sixth grade and other special groups will return on Nov. 4.

Teachers and staff said they feel they’re putting their health at risk by going back on campus.

“I have an autoimmune disorder, so I get sick very, very easily,” said Crystal West, a cafeteria employee with the HCS Food and Nutrition Department.

Teachers said sanitation is also a concern.

Elizabeth Watson said she’s OK with going back on campus, but she worries there isn’t enough custodial staff to properly clean and disinfect schools.

“If I saw custodians that were cleaning my classroom regularly, I would feel exponentially safer coming back to school,” she said.

The district said the size of custodial staff varies by school, but custodians are using hospital-grade cleaners, electrostatic sprayers in hallways and air purifiers are in each classroom.

However, with colder months approaching, some feel the timing just isn’t right. 

“We need to wait and see how the virus does, especially in the winter months,” West said. 
They also said they need clear guidelines on what’s expected once students return.

“I feel like I have not been provided training yet. I’m told it’s coming. I would like my training to be more than just an email to read over the weekend,” Watson said.

Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Smith shared a statement with 10 On Your Side.

We know these are very different times for all of us. As a school division, we have worked diligently to prepare to bring students back to a modified in-person learning model. This plan encompasses our mitigation strategies that we believe are very strong as we seek to create and maintain a healthy learning environment. We have been preparing and communicating information since June as well as obtaining feedback from families and staff through multiple surveys and stakeholder groups. While we understand that health metrics will fluctuate, we continue to monitor the VDH and CDC metrics daily. This plan balances safety with the need that exists to provide in-person instruction for young people who are struggling with virtual learning. As always, our goal is to provide safe and healthy learning environments for all students and staff.

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