CHESAPEAKE, Va. — For some students in Chesapeake, Monday was their first day back in the classroom.
The students who began a return to in-person learning include those getting physical therapy or speech therapy and all Level 1 and 2 English learners.
At Monday evening's school board meeting members and the superintendent discussed what will happen next. Right now, they plan on bringing more students back each Monday for the next two weeks.
There's still not a plan to bring anyone back past second grade.
Meanwhile, over in Virginia Beach, things are also moving forward for some students.
School officials are hoping to have certain special education students back in class on September 22.
Good COVID-19 metrics are said to be driving the change. If things continue to improve in Virginia Beach, pre-K through 2nd grade would also be back in classrooms starting September 29.
According to a letter sent to families on Monday, Virginia Beach City Public Schools plans the following:
For all other students whose parents/guardians selected Option 1, if the health metrics remain in yellow/yellow or improve, and if we can meet our staffing requirements, we intend to continue phasing in face-to-face instruction on the following schedule:
Sept. 29 – pre-K, kindergarten, grades 1 and 2
Oct. 6 – grades 3, 4 and 5
Oct. 8 – grades 6 and 9 (to correspond with the beginning of second marking period)
TBD – grades 7 and 8, 10 through 12
School officials said this follows the schedule outlined in the school district's Fall 2020 plan:
With this plan, Virginia Beach Education Association President Kelly Walker said they’re concerned about teachers' health and how teachers will juggle both virtual and in-person instruction.
“And in order to lower class size and meet the needs of parents who chose option one and option two, we need more staff,” Walker said.
In a school board meeting on Sept. 9, division leaders said they needed more time to fill 26 open teacher jobs.
Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence said this latest change is not due to a shift in staffing, but a shift in focus.
"It's a complicated scheduling process. We feel like if we prioritize our youngest learners, Pre-K through 2, we can get them in a week early," Spence said. "We are having to make sure that we’ve got enough space in our classrooms for face-to-face students and a teacher for every face-to-face student. And then we are having to combine our virtual students into both homeschool virtual classrooms and where that’s not possible into a central virtual learning center.”
Parent Max Sonnino said his son is in special education in Virginia Beach.
“I do think he will do better in school versus virtually," Sonnino said.
Even though he understands it’s a tough decision, for parents and the schools, he trusts the division.
“They’ve got the kids’ best interest at heart,” Sonnino remarked.
Parent Crystal Colohan has two kids in fourth grade. One of her children is in the special education program too.
Colohan herself has an auto-immune disease and she said she feels the uneasiness many parents feel, with the thought of kids returning to in-person instruction during this pandemic.
“I feel like there’s no great answer. I feel like I’m not happy with either decision.” Colohan said, “I feel like right now, I want them to be with their teachers, but at the same time I’m scared to death.”