CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Chesapeake's school superintendent says students will stay with in-person learning, even as COVID-19 cases rise in the region.
The decision was made during a virtual emergency meeting with the Chesapeake School Board on Monday. Superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton said schools will continue operating in the current instructional model in each building, while looking for COVID-19 outbreaks in each individual school building.
Some elementary and middle school students have been back in the classrooms for a few months. The division has been working to smoothly transition most of its students from remote instruction to in-person this semester.
On Monday, the Virginia Department of Health reported the highest, single-day increase in COVID-19 cases across the state. Health officials added 3,242 cases to the overall case count.
There are distinct spikes in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
The number of newly-confirmed cases that Chesapeake reported on Monday was 113. The city reported 111 cases on Sunday.
The positivity rate in the city has tripled in the past month and now stands at 11.7%. It’s one of only five health districts in Virginia with a positivity rate higher than 11%.
Only 12% of their cases are among kids and teens ages 0-19.
Parent Samantha Lester said she wishes the school board had made a decision on in-person learning earlier.
“It should concern everyone that Chesapeake is so far behind in making this decision,” said Lester. When the school board members voted to support the superintendent with keeping in-person learning, Lester said she felt "incredibly disappointed and frankly scared for our community.”
In her opinion, she’d like to see students learn virtually for longer.
“For the rest of the first semester, which ends in early February,” said Lester.
She said the health data explains her opinion.
“Every decision must be made for our students and for our educators for the City of Chesapeake must be made on science,” said Reagan Davis, the president of the Chesapeake Education Association.
The organization represents 1,100 employees in the school division. He said everyone enjoys having the students back, but it doesn’t make sense during the pandemic.
“You know, we want to make sure that everybody is kept safe. Every student, every employee, is kept safe,” said Davis.
Now it’s planning what to do, since staff will continue to work with students face-to-face.
“If we do not go to 100 percent virtual, Chesapeake Education Association will be monitoring the situation closely and we will be getting together to discuss any possible next steps,” said Davis.
In recent weeks, other local school boards decided to dial back in-person learning and shift back to full virtual instruction for the time being.
This is not only due to the rise in cases but also because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. The risk of increased travel and social gatherings could ultimately lead to case spikes within school buildings.
Virginia Beach City Public Schools and Hampton City Schools are two divisions in the area that elected to send all of their students back to learning virtually full-time through Thanksgiving.
Portsmouth Public Schools leaders also decided to keep all of their students on a remote learning plan until February. The school board for Suffolk Public Schools voted to push back their plans to resume in-person learning until January, at the earliest.