VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Public schools in Virginia’s largest city are heading back to all virtual learning on Tuesday, just under a week after sending thousands of students back to physical classrooms.
A Virginia Beach School Board member confirmed with 10 On Your Side that the district came to the decision after a special meeting on Monday. The transition will include students in Option 1 and 2 and last at least through the district’s Thanksgiving holiday.
“We felt like we would just push pause until we get to Thanksgiving, keep an eye on the data between here and there and see if it is going back down into the yellow and toward the green with the case positivity and cases per day,” said Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence. “That gives us a little bit of time to monitor the data and get a better understanding of what’s going on there.”
The district says the decision was made after consulting with the Virginia Department of Health and was “in the best interest of our students and staff.”
“We want to have our students back in school as safely as possible,” said Spence. “We have a plan for doing so and we’re moving forward with that plan. We’ve also said all along we’ll monitor the metrics and if the metrics went into red, we’d push pause on that plan and so we are following exactly and precisely what we said.”
In an interview with 10 On Your Side last week, Spence said the district would consider moving back to all virtual learning if coronavirus metrics hit certain thresholds.
One of the “red zone” indicators is cases by date. Cases are up 33% in the city compared to last week, which puts VBCPS in that higher risk zone. The city reported 220 cases on Monday alone, but the Virginia Department of Health said that figure included some cases that should have been reported over the weekend.
As of Monday, another major indicator, Virginia Beach’s test positivity rate was 7.3%. That wasn’t enough to put in the red zone, but that rate has been steadily trending up and could reach 10% soon.
Virginia Beach’s case rate per capita also puts the district in the “red zone,” per CDC school reopening guidelines. Virginia Beach and Chesapeake are the only districts in Hampton Roads that are in the red zone for case rates over the past two weeks, though other districts (Hampton, Newport News, Suffolk and Accomack) are all considered in the red zone for 7-day case rates.
Spence said conversations with VDH helped them make the decision to move to virtual learning.
“Our conversation with them, they were indicating that there was certainly this continued upward trend and they didn’t anticipate that this would stop and that this was not related to one facility or another and that they were supportive of our thinking,” said Spence.
Chesapeake also has a relatively high positivity rate at 8.6%, the highest in Hampton Roads, and its schools recently reopened for more in-person learning.
The district’s coronavirus case tracker now lists 102 total cumulative cases since Sept. 8.
However, Spence said he didn’t believe the schools were the source of the cases, and infected people were coming from outside.
“We are not a spreader,” Spence said. “We don’t have any connected cases in our buildings right now. That means folks may be bringing it into our building; they are not getting from each other in the building.”
Research has found that school reopening has little effect on coronavirus spread if safety precautions are in place. The clusters that are reported have been mostly connected to older students at the high school level, NPR reports.
“We will continue to monitor the health metrics for the Eastern Virginia Region and will communicate with staff and families when we believe it is safe to return to face-to-face instruction,” said district spokesperson Sondra Woodward in a release to parents.
School buildings and administrative offices will only be available to students and families by appointment only starting Tuesday. Breakfast and lunch will still be provided via the drive by/pickup model, and the district says it’s working to help with childcare needs.
Spence said for special education students, case managers will be reaching out to assist families.
For more on back to school plans in Hampton Roads, click the link below.
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