VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia Beach City Public School leaders have said COVID cases in the area must go way down before face-to-face learning can restart. They pulled all students back to virtual on November 17.
The school board held a meeting Tuesday night. Board Member Victoria Manning proposed returning all students who opted for in-person learning, on December 7.
The meeting lasted well past midnight. The board heard from 52 speakers, all parents, students or teachers split on the division’s current learning plan.
Many shared personal struggles, safety worries, mental health concerns, and technology issues.
“They are losing hope by looking at their teachers virtually,” said one parent speaker.
1,200 special education students also started back to in-person Tuesday.
“Dealing with special needs kids, it’s hard to get kids to keep their masks on,” said a special education teacher speaker. “I am dealing with that every day.”
Speakers were split on that, too.
“These special education kids, when they miss school, it does irreparable harm to their long-term education,” said a parent.
The division’s guidelines for special education learning keep no more than 10 students and at least two staff members in a classroom. The fall plan prioritizes in-person learning for this group of students.
“Very clear guidance from the federal government that our obligation to serve our students' needs with special education does not end because of a pandemic,” said Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence.
Spence said the division is still following the fall plan and science to decide when to return all students to the classroom.
“I don’t think there is defined science that it is safe,” Dr. Spence said. “I think what we have consistently heard is community transition matters. That is what we built the plan on.”
Manning’s motion failed, 3-to-8. Manning, Laura Hughes, and Carolyn Weems voted in favor of the motion.
“People can die if we don’t get them back in school,” Manning said. “The anxiety and the depression are real.”
However, board members had a lengthy and detailed discussion on the motion. Many of the members told Manning they respected her motion and viewpoint but didn’t feel it was the right time to send students back.
“To continually subject our families to these hours-long meetings is so unfair,” said board member Kimberly Melnyk. “I think right now we need to stick with the metrics currently outlined in our plan. I would just like to see us stay the course for right now, I know it is painful.”
“I am anxious to get our students in class, we all are,” said board member Beverly Anderson. “But only when it is safe.”
“We think we have a plan that works,” Dr. Spence said. “I do believe guidance will evolve, but I repeat, it hasn’t yet. I hope that when it does, we can come back and have that conversation.”
Board member Dottie Holtz made a substitute motion to have no in-person instruction -- including special education students -- take place when any of the division’s health metrics are in the red range.
“I think we don’t need to keep them in school, I think it is time to take the out,” said board member Terrence Riggs.
“I am going to support this,” Anderson said. “It’s not acceptable to have one person die, not even one.”
That motion failed, 4-to-7. Board members Riggs, Holtz, Anderson, and Jessica Owens had voted yes.