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Chesterfield Schools Weigh Several Options For Reopening

School buses
When and if students go back to school in the fall, plans to transfer more than 62,000 students on the buses will look very different. One option the district is thinking about is called a "checkerboard" layout which allows only one student per seat, with seats elft empty in a checkers board pattern. Only 11 students could ride the bus at a time. If they wore masks, that number could double. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

Chesterfield School Board members heard six options Tuesday on what the first day of school could look like in the fall. This comes after months of remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Chesterfield Superintendent Merv Daugherty told the school board that guidelines outlining how classes will be taught are changing rapidly. 

“We would love to have all of our children back in school on September 8. Will that be allowed? Most likely not,” Daugherty said.

Each of the options, said Daugherty, were vetted by a task force. The task force included staff from facility operations, technology, equity teaching, risk management and their legal department. 

The options run the gamut from students attending school in person, five days a week - which Daugherty doesn’t recommend - to staggering days for in-classroom instruction and at-home lesson plans. 

Regardless of whether students attend classes in person or virtually, Daugherty said work will be graded and attendance will be taken. 

The district has many other factors to consider when reopening. For instance: How many children can ride buses. 

Deputy Superintendent Thomas Taylor laid out two examples. One is what they call a “checkerboard” set up in which only 11 children could ride a bus--they’d have to sit like pieces on a checkerboard. If the students wore masks, that number could double, he said.

School board member Kathryn Haines says she’s received over 100 emails from families asking for the five day option. She says the board is balancing all the risks. 

“Just trust that your board is navigating this path of trading one risk for another and that we must also let our decision making be guided by science and by standards,” Haines said.

Over the next month, the district will hold virtual town hall meetings with panel discussions. Participants will include faith leaders, members of the county’s parent-teacher association, and other community leaders.

Then, they will return on July 21 to vote for their preferred option.

School Board Vice Chair Dorothy Heffron told Daugherty she had a long list of questions for him before she could consider voting on any option, but her top priority was school nurses.

“My primary question is, when are we going to be able to confirm that we have secured a nurse for every school. And I need you to tell me that we’re going to have confirmation before you’re going to ask me to vote on this,” Heffron said.

Daugherty said he will do his best to get nurses into every school--but first, he said they need to secure the funding, and then they need to hire.

All school district plans for reopening must be submitted to the state Department of Education for final approval.  

Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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