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Virginia Beach superintendent proposes phased return to in-person learning

Under the plan, students in grades pre-K through 6th grade and select special education classes would be the first to return, beginning on January 19.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Coronavirus numbers in Virginia keep climbing, with the state reporting more than 4,300 new cases on Tuesday.

In Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach once again had the most new cases, with 264.

But despite high numbers, Virginia Beach City Public Schools could begin a phased return to learning later this month.

Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence proposed to the school board on Tuesday to begin a phased return beginning Tuesday, January 19.

Students in grades pre-K through 6th grade and select special education classes would be the first to return. After a three week waiting period, that would be followed with grades 7 through 12 returning in a hybrid form on February 8. 

Families who chose the virtual option for their students will stay on that path.

Division leaders are also proposing they start to use school-level COVID-19 transmission data when deciding on opening or closing face-to-face instruction. They would close individual classrooms or schools on a case-by-case basis. 

Right now, they exclusively go by the community transmission metrics using the Eastern Region's numbers.  

During Tuesday's presentation, leaders and area doctors said research shows schools are not significant spreaders of COVID-19. They said the plan is urgent because student mental health is taking a hit and the grades of students in the division are lowering.  

Board member Victoria Manning said she believes in the safety measures that are in place. 

"We have such great measures in place in our schools," Manning said. "We've spent millions of dollars in safety measures for our schools, with PPE and plexiglass and cleaning supplies and limited numbers in our classes, I believe we can do it safely."

Teachers with the Virginia Beach Education Association want to see a vaccination plan, first.

“How that would roll out, who would receive them," said VBEA President Kelly Walker. 

Officials said they are working on it.

Board members will vote on the superintendent's proposal next Tuesday during the formal meeting.