CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Chesapeake Public Schools will "stay the course" of its in-person learning plan, despite a sharp rise in positive COVID-19 cases in the region. However, the decision is not sitting well with the Chesapeake teacher’s union.
“We are very alarmed that this decision was made to continue in-person instruction as our numbers keep increasing,” said Reagan Davis, president of the Chesapeake Education Association.
The Chesapeake school board unanimously approved the recommendation by superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton during an emergency virtual meeting on Monday.
The Virginia Department of Health reported the largest, single-day increase in COVID-19 cases with 3,242 newly infected people added to the overall count. In Chesapeake, the number of COVID-19 cases and the test positivity rate have steadily risen this month. The region is currently one of only five health districts in the state with a test positivity rate of 11.7 percent.
However, Cotton referenced the disparity between the number of cases in the community and in the school district.
“A lot of what is happening is happening in our communities and not in schools,” he said.
Only 12 percent of COVID-19 case in Chesapeake are among kids and teens ages 19 and under.
But Davis does not agree with the board’s decision.
“With our numbers going up in our city and the possibility of individuals not reporting cases or symptoms, it’s very alarming,” said Davis. “While it is possible that the number of COVID-19 cases are not spreading inside the school building, it is possible that our students and employees can bring positive cases into the building.”
Davis said the teacher’s union will closely evaluate the metrics that Cotton presented to the board Monday. Davis suggests classes temporarily move remote for two weeks following Thanksgiving break, as families and staff likely plan to travel for the holidays.
The CDC and health experts are warning about the potential spread of the virus over the holiday season due to travel and social gatherings.
“I feel trapped,” said parent Alana Nelson. Nelson has two children in the Chesapeake Public Schools system, including one with special needs.
“Like all the other families in the district, we don’t really have a say in what the school district and Dr. Cotton choose,” said Nelson. “But we all have to deal with whatever they decide.”
Nelson does not have confidence in the district’s educational strategy if an outbreak or disruption, like a teacher testing positive or quarantining, were to happen.
She believes the district should focus on students who are most vulnerable, like students with special needs, and limit the number of children in the classroom. She thinks increasing the number of students and teachers in the building increases the chances of any kind of disruption due to the virus, although she understands all parents want what’s best for their child, she said.
“There’s no perfect plan,” said Nelson. “I feel like I am going to have to choose between my child getting the free and appropriate education that she is entitled to or whether or not I’m going to have to choose to try to have a safer environment for my children based on the metrics. And that’s an uncomfortable place to be.”
The board approved three measures as part of Superintendent Cotton’s recommendations:
- The school district moves forward with its in-person plan.
- The school district will roll out a new COVID-19 data dashboard to be updated daily. It will breakdown the number of cases per school and track any potential outbreaks.
- The superintendent can move individual schools to virtual learning temporarily, if necessary.
Davis said he will seek clarity on what the Superintendent would deem as "necessary" for any such decision.