VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Virginia Beach school leaders voted to phase back in the first groups of students for in-person learning in February, instead of next week as originally planned.
The School Board spent most of Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning deciding the next step. They say as long as COVID-19 metrics drop, some students will begin returning on Feb. , with secondary students returning the week of Feb. 22.
During a workshop last week, Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence proposed having all option 1 pre-K through sixth-grade students return to campus on Jan. 19. This would also include high- level special education students. After a three-week monitoring period, secondary students would then return on Feb. 9.
However, Spence later proposed to delay that return date of the first group by two weeks.
“Even with students in virtual learning, we’re seeing a rising number of school-related cases so this means employees and students who are reporting,” Spence said.
The superintendent said the increase in school-related cases paired with the burden of contact tracing are reasons why the district should hold off on reopening campuses for students.
As the post-holiday surge continues, Spence said he no longer feels confident in the district’s ability to keep up with contact tracing, which is a key component in the plan to return students to school safely.
In addition, Spence is also recommending that rather than continue to return for additional votes on the matter, the School Board grant him authority to consult with internal health staff and the health department to determine if the timeline (three weeks from today for a return) will allow VBCPS to provide assurances that they can sufficiently meet contact tracing requirements and, if not, to delay further with sufficient notice to the Board and community.
Spence says it is his intention to work closely with health staff and with the public health department in the next three weeks to determine what resources might be developed to make sure VBCPS can meet that contact tracing requirement.
“I’m concerned for my students, and other students in the community, that you’re going to continue to move the goal post,” said one woman who addressed board members.
Many people who spoke during the public comment voiced frustrations about another potential delay while others said it’s needed until metrics drop.
“The one thing that we cannot mitigate is human behavior,” said another woman who addressed the board.
Before the meeting, parents and students held a vigil for students struggling with their mental health during virtual learning.
“I don’t think people are aware enough of the depression and anxiety it’s causing,” said Caylen Biter, a VBCPS student.
Parents said they won’t give up.
“We care for teachers. We want teachers to be safe but we feel like the board has focused too much on what teachers want and not what students need,” said Becky Hay, a VBCPS parent. “Until the children are in the building, the fight’s not over.”
The Virginia Health Department reports coronavirus cases in the city of Virginia Beach are trending up at a record level, with a 20.9% test positivity rate.
Despite rising metrics across the city, the district announced there will be a varsity winter sports season in Virginia Beach.
School leaders say there will be some changes to team sizes and no spectators at competitions.
Spence maintains transmission is overall low within schools. The school district reports 18 new cases since January.
Spence also asked for the school board’s approval to allow him to close classes and entire schools as needed, based on school-level coronavirus metrics.
School officials will also discuss that at the meeting at 6 p.m. The board was scheduled to meet in-person, but the public can watch virtually.
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