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Chesapeake school board addresses overworked teachers, staff vacancies, new testing protocol

The school board introduced a plan for outside tutors, differentiating between COVID-19, strep and the flu, and gave an update on their Capital Improvement Plan.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Staff vacancies, overworked teachers and a new testing protocol: These were some of the topics discussed at Monday night's Chesapeake School Board meeting.

The last 18 months have been tough for teachers.

"I’m going to begin with a direct quote from a teacher. 'Staff morale is at a low I didn’t know existed,'" Lynn Davidson told the board.

Reagan Davis, a Chesapeake middle school teacher echoed that sentiment.

"We have blended the pre-pandemic and pandemic requirements or our employees without taking nearly anything off their plates."

RELATED: After a tough year and a half, Suffolk Public Schools work to ease burden for teachers

The Chesapeake School Board says they’re still down 66 teachers.

"Our existing staff members, as you’ve heard this evening, are having to do more each day to fulfill these responsibilities with limited staff," Superintendent Jared Cotton said.

RELATED: Teachers needed in several Hampton Roads school divisions

One step the board is taking to help their exhausted staff is to partner with a tutoring service for the elementary school to help keep students on track when they have to quarantine.

"Because our existing staffing levels are not where they need to be," Cotton said, "We plan to utilize contracted tutors to support individual or small groups of students while they are learning from home during the school day."

From October 11 through the 17, they had 534 students in quarantine.

That’s down 150 from the week before, which Cotton says he’s glad to see.

So to keep those numbers going down, they’re implementing a new testing strategy.

"While our COVID-19 data are decreasing, which is a good sign, we are seeing an increase in flu and strep throat which is common for this time of the year."

COVID-19, strep and the flu all have similar symptoms.

So, starting Tuesday, to avoid unnecessarily quarantining students who have symptoms, they can request an at-home rapid test from a school nurse.

If they are fever-free for 24 hours with a negative COVID-19 test and no known exposure to the virus, they can return to school.

However, students who have been exposed still need to quarantine.

Also during tonight’s meeting, the board discussed their 10-year plan.

The Capital Improvement Plan includes projects that cost over $100,000 and they say first things first, they need to focus on maintenance projects.

They plan to replace 13 roofs, 24 HVAC units and repave 9 schools.

Over $36 million of the plan will go towards modernizing schools around the district, building additions and technology upgrades.

They say one of their biggest projects will be a new elementary school in the Deep Creek area to help with overcrowding. That is scheduled to open in 2027.