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Despite Increase in COVID Risk, Chesterfield OKs In-Person Learning

Robious Middle School
Students in middle and high schools in Chesterfield County got the go-ahead to return to a hybrid version of classes at Tuesday's School Board meeting. However, the district's appointed health committee was split on the decision and seemed to defy their own recommendations of when it's safe to send children back to schools. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Despite an uptick in COVID-19 cases, the last group of Chesterfield County students will be moving to hybrid instruction. The decision came Tuesday at a school board meeting.

Health committee officials were split on beginning part time in person learning for grades 6 through 12. The committee, formed at the request of the school board, was authorized to make these decisions in advance at a meeting back in August.

Nick Oyler, Chesterfield schools’ student health coordinator, said they were able to justify the decision because the number of cases and positive tests fell close to the line between moderate and low transmission risk.

Oyler told board members that the positivity case rate is higher now than when cohort one--the first group of students--went back.

But school board member Kathryn Haines said the committee had adopted Virginia Department of Health guidelines. Those call for a pause in return to in-person classes when numbers reach the moderate category. 

“I feel that today, that decision is being reversed. And I’m struggling to understand the ‘why’ of that,” Haines said.

Haines said she wonders if things would be different if they didn’t give all power to the health committee to make decisions on returning.

Since schools opened their doors at the end of September, there have been 27 reported cases in the district, and five among students.

School Board Chair Debbie Bailey said the decision to have the rest of the student return is not going to make everyone happy but parents still have a choice. 

“That if coming back to school is not a comfort level for a family, they have the opportunity to stay virtual,” Bailey said.

Bailey said if the majority of the health committee said it's appropriate to return, “I wouldn’t stand in the way.” She added that authority to reverse the return would be up to Superintendent Merv Daugherty and the state health department.

If coronavirus cases continue to trend upward, Daugherty has said he supports students going back to all virtual learning.

The health committee will continue to meet on a bi-weekly basis, but  the school board will resume monthly meetings.

Bus routes, already stressed due to a lack of drivers, will be impacted by the returning students.

The head of the district’s transportation department told the board that they are still about 60 drivers short. This prompted Bailey to ask parents to continue helping out the district by driving children to school if they’re able. 

Students are slated to return to face-to-face classes on November 9.


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