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Virginia teachers’ union pushes for all-online instruction through January

As coronavirus cases climb and the holidays approach, the state’s teachers’ union calls for all public classrooms to move fully virtual until mid-January.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — The Virginia Education Association wants all publics schools to switch to all-virtual learning through at least mid-January.

“Those governing our public schools owe it to the students, their families and communities, and our hard-working teachers and support professionals to minimize the exposures, not compound them,” said VEA President Dr. James Fedderman in a video released Thursday on Facebook.

Virginia recorded 3,395 new coronavirus cases Friday, according to the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard. 

The number of cases and test positivity rates have steadily increased during the first two weeks of December. Fedderman is concerned more cases, hospitalizations and deaths will take place following the holiday season because of social gatherings.

“We must ensure that our students are learning—but we cannot take actions that put the health and safety of students, or educators, or Virginia families at risk when safer options are available,” he said.  “Learning losses will be made up, but loss of life cannot be.”

RELATED: Chesapeake Public Schools reports approximately 1,000 quarantines - not cases - this school year

In Hampton Roads, Hampton City Schools and Chesapeake Public Schools, along with several private schools in those areas, offer at least some form of in-person learning. 

However, the health districts’ 7-day test positivity rates, 11.9% in Chesapeake and 12.8% in Hampton, are among the highest in Hampton Roads.

Hampton City Schools brought back pre-K, kindergarten and select students with disabilities on November 4. Hampton City Schools spokesperson Kellie Goral said the return of the these students has gone very well, and as of now, these students will remain in-person until schools close for Winter Break.

As proactive measures, the Hampton division temporarily moved to an all-virtual learning model for all students the week following Thanksgiving and scheduled to do the same following Winter Break (Jan. 4 – 8) “in order to continue to maintain our safe and healthy learning environments,” said Goral.

However, on Friday, the division informed parents it will extend the all-virtual schedule after Winter Break until January 15.

The Chesapeake Public Schools system offers the option of in-person learning or virtual learning to students and their families. 

Earlier this month, the school system rolled out a new COVID-19 dashboard to track cases and outbreaks in individual schools. As of Friday, CPS recorded 121 cases over the last 14 days and two outbreaks, where the spread is believed to have taken place inside a school building.  

RELATED: Chesapeake Public Schools has 'no plan' to take students virtual, despite city's high case rate

CPS spokesperson Richard Babb said the district has no plans to make a change to the instructional model in place at this time, and will provide an update to families at the next scheduled board meeting on Monday, Dec. 14.

However, Chesapeake Public Schools announced this week it would pause all its athletic practices through Dec. 15.

“We understand the concerns expressed by the VEA as the health and safety of our students and staff remains our top priority,” wrote Babb. “We consistently monitor the dashboards on the Virginia Department of Health to track the presence of COVID-19 in our area and we are working closely with the Chesapeake Health Department to monitor any impact to our schools. We will continue to evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis to determine the best course of action for all involved.

Art Allen and Rebecca Winningham have custody of their granddaughter Alayna, who is a second grader in Chesapeake Public Schools. The couple opted for the virtual learning option due to their own health risks. 

However, Alayna struggled, they say, until the district reassigned her to a new teacher earlier this week.

“I believe with the right people in place it can work,” said Allen, who said he reached out to the principal and the district about their issues, including sign-in problems and lack of guidance. He says since the change, Alayna’s performance has been “night and day.”

Still, Allen said he would choose the virtual learning option, again.

“I believe it is the safest option, but it must be done well,” said Allen.

Reagan Davis, president of the Chesapeake Education Association said the union is “thankful for the VEA’s support of educators and students in the state of Virginia.”

“Amidst rising numbers in Chesapeake, and elsewhere, virtual learning is the safest option,” said Davis.

“We know that virtual learning is not a true substitute for the in-person instruction we have embraced for generations,” said Fedderman. “But as our nation approaches some 300,000 deaths from this pandemic, it is the safest and wisest course to take right now.”

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