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Teachers rally forces, urging Hampton School Board to delay in-person start

Next week select grade levels in Hampton City Schools will begin in-person classes. Hampton and Newport News teachers rallied together against the plan on Wednesday.

HAMPTON, Va. — Next week select grade levels in Hampton City Schools are scheduled to begin in-person classes.

On Wednesday, Hampton teachers met with teachers from Newport News outside of the administration building on Franklin Street.

Both groups rallied together against the Hampton School Division's plans to start in-person classes on November 4.

"I'd rather my students be a little behind, learn a little slowly, than not see tomorrow,” said Hampton Middle School teacher Vivian Ruiz.

Hampton Middle School teacher Vivian Ruiz believes the November start date is too much, too soon.

"I have kids who have been doing school from home and they are sick with COVID,” Ruiz said.

Under the current plan, students in Pre-K through third grade, sixth grade and vulnerable students in all grades, will return on the November 4. They will follow a hybrid schedule, alternating between in-person and online instruction. 

There are no dates set for other grade levels.

"Planning as we go, that's ok,” said Hampton High School teacher Jennifer Menzel. “But not when it's a life-and-death situation, and that is what a pandemic is."

Many teachers said they want division leaders to take more time to plan, especially with flu season near.

"Every year around flu season, we get hit pretty hard,” said Hampton Elementary teacher Nigel Daniels. “I mean one day last year, I had 11 kids out."

Two weeks ago, Newport News’ Superintendent Dr. George Parker put their return plan on pause after hearing concerns from staff and the community.

"We're only as safe as the school next door, and we truly believe that,” said Newport News teacher Chanel Huit.

Huit hopes Hampton leaders follow her city's lead.

"The virus crosses state lines, county lines and we are right next door,” Huit said. “We have teachers in Newport News that live in Hampton."

RELATED: Virginia Beach School Board votes to return all secondary, Option One students to in-person classes

RELATED: Norfolk approves plan to return students to in-person learning

Hampton Superintendent Dr. Jeffery Smith responded to the community's concerns in a statement:

 “We know these are very different times for all of us. As a school division, we have worked diligently to prepare to bring students back to a modified in-person learning model. This plan encompasses our mitigation strategies that we believe are very strong as we seek to create and maintain a healthy learning environment. We have been preparing and communicating information since June as well as obtaining feedback from families and staff through multiple surveys and stakeholder groups. While we understand that health metrics will fluctuate, we continue to monitor the VDH and CDC metrics daily. This plan balances safety with the need that exists to provide in-person instruction for young people who are struggling with virtual learning. As always, our goal is to provide safe and healthy learning environments for all students and staff.”

The division held a special meeting on Tuesday to address staff and community concerns about the plan. 

Teachers told us Wednesday that the meeting didn’t change their minds about the plan.

Hampton School Board Chair Joseph Kilgore also responded to community concerns in a statement. He said they have surveyed staff about the plan more than once.

“Over the past several months, the superintendent and his staff have provided the Board with a comprehensive plan for students to return to modified in-person learning. I know this process has involved the input of various stakeholders. In addition, the division surveyed all staff members twice with follow up as needed. The first survey provided all staff members the opportunity to not only respond to specific questions but to express their individual concerns at each phase of the Return-to-School plan. The School Board has been provided with updates throughout the planning process as well. As such, the School Board has expressed confidence in the plan as well as the various protocols and expectations that have been developed. We anticipate a successful start next week as select students return to modified in-person instruction.”

Ruiz wants to be back in the classroom with students more than anything. But said she needs to feel safe, first.

"Because I love them, I don't want them to die,” Ruiz said. “I don't want them to get sick. I don't want their parents to get sick. I've heard so many funerals, so many absences because of doctors notes already. I'm sick of that, I don't want to see that."

Teachers from both cities said they will be back rallying at the administration building on Franklin Street on Friday at 3:30 p.m.