VB School Board opts to start fall semester virtually, phase-in students’ return to classrooms

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — As many school divisions in Hampton Roads make decisions on what the fall semester will look like during the coronavirus pandemic, Virginia Beach is now stepping up to the plate to make its call.

In the early hours Wednesday morning, after a meeting that went all Tuesday night, the school board voted 8-3 to start the fall semester virtually with the intent to phase-in in-person instruction.

The administration will monitor the percent positivity rate of COVID-19 cases in the region — the 7-day average of percent of positive tests — to determine when to start in-person learning.

WAVY News 10’s Geena Arevalo reported that 65 people were scheduled to speak during the public comment period, which lasted more than three hours.

Last week, Virginia Beach Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence released his recommendation, which is virtual learning beginning Sept. 8 with the chance to resume some in-person learning if health data indicates it is safe.

Under the approved plan, parents will also have the opportunity to opt-out of in-person learning and continue virtual education even if schools reopen.

Public opinion was split.

“Of course teachers prefer face-to-face instruction, but I’m sure they would rather prefer to be safe and alive,” said one teacher.

Others spoke out saying they didn’t want their kids falling behind.

“Posting online assignments is not teaching and sitting in front of a computer screen is not learning,” said one parent.

The board heard presentations from administration about what virtual and in-person instruction would look like during the new year. School board members spent hours discussing the parent and teacher questionnaire, coronavirus data and health department recommendations, and concerns regarding instruction plans.

Appearing frustrated at one point, Spence stated the assumption that he and his administration want to keep kids out of schools is wrong. “You just don’t bring people back in the middle of a wildfire and that’s where we are right now.”

Two board members made amendment proposals — one that would give parents the choice of whether or not to send their kids back to school, the other would’ve solidified the first nine weeks of the school year online. Both were struck down.

Ahead of the meeting, three board members also released their own alternative plan titled “the plan for choice,” saying they didn’t want to wait for the health metrics to improve.

Before the meeting, the Virginia Beach Education Association held a “Pack the Parking Lot” car rally to tell the school division they want to start the school year virtually.

The VBEA says this is the safest option for everyone amid the pandemic. COVID-19 cases are surging in Hampton Roads.

Another group of people who wanted in-person instruction also gathered outside the school administration building before the meeting. They said the choice should be up to the parents about whether to send students back on campus.

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