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Under New Leadership, Henrico School Board Talks Vaccines, Reopening

Glen Allen
Interior of Glen Allen High School in Henrico. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)

The Henrico County School Board elected new leadership during its bi-monthly work session Thursday. Michelle Ogburn of the Three Chopt district was elected as school board chair and Marcie Shea of Tuckahoe as the new vice-chair.

In addition, Cathy Harris was elected as clerk, and Tiffany Burton as deputy clerk. The Board also approved Superintendent Amy Cashwell’s recommendation for Beth Teigen, her chief of staff, to attend board meetings in her absence.

Following a closed session, Cashwell quickly addressed confusion regarding the district’s recent decision to delay Henrico’s return to in-person learning indefinitely.

“I once more humbly ask for patience and forgiveness from those of you who have opted to return their students in person and showed tremendous confidence in our health risk mitigation planning. I share your heartbreak, your frustration over the continuous delays to our timeline,” she said.

On Tuesday, the superintendent said the delay was due to a nurse shortage that affected the division’s ability to mitigate health risks in schools. The next day, the Henrico Citizen reportedthat some Henrico officials disputed that explanation, pointing instead to worsening health data as the main reason for the delay.

Cashwell defended her explanation of the delay in a follow-up story by the Citizen on Wednesday, and again during the board meeting.

“In a pandemic, where information changes almost daily, this imminent availability of vaccines for our staff was simply unknown at the time we set our timeline on January 5. While we knew vaccines were a future possibility, we did not expect them so soon,” she said.

And during the Thursday school board meeting, HCPS Spokesperson Andy Jenks restated through the school district’s Twitter account that HCPS stands by its explanation: “Time was used to emphasize our commitment to getting back to in-person learning for those who may have lost hope.”

During an update from the HCPS Health Committee, Teigen, who heads the committee, said Henrico no longer faces a nurse shortage. She said that on Tuesday evening, after the decision was made to delay in-person classes, the district was informed by Henrico’s Incident Management Team that only half of its school nurses would be required for staff vaccinations.

Teigen then explained that local health data shows two core indicators related to community spread continue to be at the highest risk category for Henrico schools, though she says Henrico has seen little evidence of COVID-19 spreading inside of schools during its limited in-person instruction.

“While we have put an equal emphasis on the three core indicators, recent guidance from our health professionals is for schools to put a much greater emphasis on the ability of our schools to implement the five keys mitigation strategies that are a part of the third core indicator,” Teigen said.

She also presented the results of a survey the county sent to teachers and staff Monday to gauge interest in the COVID-19 vaccine. Almost three quarters of HCPS staff members say they are likely to take the COVID-19 vaccine. 13% said they are unsure, and 14% said they are unlikely to get vaccinated.

“Not all staff responded to the survey, as it was a quick turnaround. However, we are far above the national average of about 50 to 60% that chose to participate in the Phase 1A immunization process,” she said.

The COVID-19 vaccine will become available to teachers and school staff in Henrico — along with other nearby localities — starting next week.

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