Ahead of vote, group says VB superintendent’s plan reopens schools too soon, another says not soon enough

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — When it comes to reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s becoming clear that a win-win situation may not be found in Virginia Beach.

Ahead of a vote planned by the school board on Tuesday, groups that typically have opposing opinions are both criticizing the superintendent’s plan to start the 2020-21 school year virtually and eventually return to face-to-face classroom education.

Last week, Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence released his recommendation that classes begin virtually on Sept. 8. Then, based on public health metrics, parents will have the option to transition their children to face-to-face instruction or continue on with virtual learning.

Spence called it an “incredibly challenging decision.”

On Sunday, three board members released their alternative plan titled “the plan for choice.” They don’t want to wait for the health metrics to improve.

“Based upon recommendations made by medical experts, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as the responses from the VBCPS Parent and
Staff questionnaires, we believe there should be a choice for full-time in-person learning starting at
the beginning of the 2020-21 School year for all students,” said the release signed by board members Carolyn Weems, Laura Hughes and Victoria Manning. “We also advocate for meaningful virtual
learning for those who choose that option.”

Several weeks earlier, the same three board members spoke to a crowd rallying outside district headquarters in favor of full-time, in-person, education in the fall.

While the CDC did write that extended school closure is harmful to children. In the same paper, it wrote that “COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission.”

Currently, the region’s percent of positive tests is at 12 percent.

“We’ve not lost sight of the need and the importance of having students in school. And the importance of social and emotional learning,” Spence said. “The most important thing we can do, get back to school safely as soon as possible.”

On Tuesday, members and supporters of the Virginia Beach Education Association are expected to rally outside the school board meeting.

VBEA President Kelly Walker wrote in a statement that they can’t support Spence’s recommended metrics, signaling they are not safe enough.

In the fall 2020 plan, it is recommended that schools could be open — with appropriate safety measures in place — as long as Eastern Virginia isn’t in the “red zone.”

The zones are as follows:

  • Green: mild, less than 5% 7-day COVID-19 positivity rate, <10/100,000 cases per week (less than 26.5 cases per day)
  • Yellow: mild-moderate, 5% to less than 10%, 10-100/100,000 cases per week (26.5 – 264 cases per day), and
  • Red: substantial >10%., 100+/100,000 cases per week (265 or more cases per day)

Under the yellow phase, parents would have the option to send back students in grades Pre-K through sixth grade and ninth-graders. Virtual learning would continue for seventh, eighth and tenth to twelfth-graders until the green phase.

“The indicators for the yellow zone are too broad and do not provide a reasonable sense of security to return safely to a face-to-face learning environment,” Walker said. “We reiterate that no one wants to return to school, in person, more than the employees of VBCPS; but not at the expense of the health and safety of students, employees and the community at large.”

VBEA is recommending virtual learning for at least the first quarter of the year, not-unlike Norfolk Public Schools. When the health data is in the “green zone” for two weeks, they recommend giving parents the choice to return some students to school.

The board meeting where a vote is expected starts at 6 p.m.

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