VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – The superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) called a special meeting for Jan. 5 to discuss proposed adjustments to the return-to-school plan.
All students in Virginia Beach, including students with disabilities, returned to virtual learning on Dec. 8 in response to the increases in coronavirus metrics in the city. Although most had already been learning remotely since before Thanksgiving break.
During Tuesday’s workshop, Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence proposed having all option 1 pre-K through sixth-grade students return to campus on Jan. 19. This would include high-needs special education students. Following a three-week monitoring period, Spence is proposing option 1 students in grades seven through 12 return, which would be Feb. 8.
“You may notice that we are not adding any more grades to the physical classrooms during the weeks of Jan. 25 and Feb. 1. This is to allow ample time to monitor the health and well-being of our Option 1 elementary students, staff, and students in special education before welcoming back more grades,” Spence wrote in a notice to families Tuesday.
Schedules will stay the same for pre-K to sixth-grade students. All other students, including current ninth-graders, will go back to school with the hybrid model used earlier this year on Feb. 9
Spence also asked for the school board’s approval to give him the authority to close classes and entire schools as needed, based on school level coronavirus metrics. He said all his decisions would be made in conjunction with the health department.
The school board is going to consider this proposal next week.
“Recent studies have shown that COVID-19 transmission rates are driven by the community, not within schools and that in-school transmission is negligible when schools effectively implement health and safety mitigations,” Spence wrote Tuesday night in the notice to families.
District officials said they’d like to use school-level metrics versus city-level metrics when determining opening and closing plans.
In the ongoing debate of computer or classroom, Spence told board members he’s letting the scientific data guide him.
“The bottom line is this – evidence strongly indicates that schools are not sites of significant viral transmission but what we absolutely know right now is that our kids need to be in school more than ever,” he said.
District officials presented data to the board that showed reading and math performance levels among students are down compared to the previous school year.
Officials also said they’re concerned about students’ mental health.
However, some members of a Virginia Beach online advocacy group said the plan is moving too fast. One parent told 10 On Your Side she feels the district should invest more in technology to improve virtual learning.
“I just don’t see putting and jeopardizing the safety and well-being of our teachers, our staff and our students,” said Latasha Holloway, a parent of three VBCPS students.
Others, including board members, said the current COVID-19 metrics for the city and the state’s eastern region are concerning.
“I just want to be cautious before we make this decision about using data that we formed when community spread was low,” said board member Beverly Anderson.
The district said COVID-19 mitigation strategies are a top priority. School leaders said safety assessment teams will be making unannounced visits to campuses to make sure safety protocols are meeting expectations.
Four physicians at the meeting, who have helped advise the administration, all said they support the proposal.
Despite rising coronavirus cases across the city, the district announced Monday, there will be a varsity winter sports season in Virginia Beach.
Tryouts will begin as soon as Wednesday, Jan. 6. According to a letter sent to families, there will be some changes, though. Those include limiting the size of teams and not allowing spectators at competitions.
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