NORFOLK, Va. — School divisions in Hampton Roads are making their final preparations ahead of the new academic year. We know the mask debate is no more after a mandate requiring it for K-12 schools in Virginia. Now, eyes are on the vaccination efforts and the highly contagious Delta variant.
In Norfolk, school leaders presented their return-to-learn plan in a workshop Wednesday.
"Students will wear masks indoors. We will maintain at least three feet of physical distancing indoors as much as is practical," said Chief Schools Officer Dr. Lynnell Gibson.
Norfolk Public Schools leaders described those strategies—along with sanitizing and contact tracing—as part of their core mitigation plan.
But in the event students or staff have to quarantine, plans are in place for them too.
"We know we are going to have outbreaks once school starts," said Board Member Dr. Noëlle Gabriel.
Quarantined children likely won't talk to teachers during school hours, since instruction is in person full time.
"We have the funds to support our staff as they work with the children outside of school hours and provide assignments through Canvas, communicate through e-mail, over the phone. If they need to Zoom with families, they'll be able to do that," said Gibson.
With COVID-19 top of mind, school board member Tanya Bhasin pled a for vaccine mandate for division employees. She said she is especially worried about younger students who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
"I believe every adult in the school building who is student-facing should do everything possible to protect our students," said Bhasin.
Board Chair Dr. Adale Martin mentioned that she previously asked about the legality of a vaccine mandate for division employees in Norfolk. City lawyers are continuing to gather information.
We know Richmond Public Schools approved a vaccine mandate for their employees earlier this week.
"I'm hoping that employees will make the decisions that pertain to them personally," said Gibson. "We will collaborate with the Norfolk Department of Public Health to provide opportunity for our students to be vaccinated."
Norfolk Public Schools leaders envision vaccine clinics at the schools again. Meanwhile, they're directing those who are eligible and want a shot to go to Military Circle Mall on either Tuesday or Thursday.
This fall, the schools will operate on a "temporary staggered" schedule like the spring.
The schools should also notice more tutors available, thanks to a boost in funding.
In other business for Norfolk Public Schools Board Tuesday night—policy approval. That means changes in wording follow laws preventing employment discrimination and discrimination against transgender students.