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Chesterfield School District Explains Reasons To Stay Virtual Through January

Many Chesterfield school buses will be transporting meals instead of students. That's because the district has switched students back to an all-virtual format due to high numbers of positive Covid-19 cases in the county. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)


The Chesterfield School Board heard the district’s reasons on Monday for continuing school virtually until the end of January. But some special education students will still attend classes in-person.

Deputy Superintendent Thomas Taylor told the board the decision is based on there being just a few weeks left in the calendar year. And, with the chance of gatherings over the holiday break, despite CDC guidance not to congregate, a period of isolation would be necessary, to be on the safe side.

“As a lot of our health agencies are suggesting, it is probably best that we have a quarantining period even after that,” said Thomas.

Thomas said therefore it makes sense to wait until the end of January, which is also the end of the semester.

“Basically what I’m hearing is we don’t want to yo-yo our parents and our students back and forth,” said Board Chair Debbie Bailey. “And because of the likelihood of a rise in transmission over the holidays and coming back from the holidays, if we were to open up right away there would be a fear we’d yo-yo back and forth.”

School officials made the decision not to return to in-person instruction prior to the Thanksgiving break, after COVID-19 numbers shot up, causing the county to reach the highest level for possible case transmission.

For the month of November, the district reported on its website that 110 staff and students had tested positive for the coronavirus. Sixty four were students. 

“We expected to see cases in schools and we have seen cases in the schools,” said Health Committee spokesperson Nick Oyler. “These cases are overwhelmingly due to community and not school-based exposures.”

Oyler also said that those numbers don’t include the numbers of students and staff that must remain at home due to family or community exposure to the virus. 

He said local and national experts are warning that the number of cases could rise during the holiday season if people continue traveling and holding small gatherings.

Oyler added that as cases  rise in the community, there’s also been an increase in delays for staff and students to get tested and get results back. 

“[The] Employee Medical Center reported backlogs and delays in assessing and clearing staff,” he said. “On the high end, we’re aware of staff waiting seven days for an appointment. This delay obviously leads to significant challenges in staffing.”

Several  board members told the district and the health committee that when the board returns next month, they want to have a discussion about restructuring the cohort system to better match health guidelines. 

The board’s next meeting is on January 12, 2021, when they will get a health committee update and lay out plans for when students could possibly return to buildings.


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