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Final Chesterfield Students Okayed for In-Person Return

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Starting on March 9th all middle and high school students in Chesterfield County will be allowed to return full time to face to face instruction. This will be the last group of students to return to in-person learning. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Starting next month, middle and high school students in Chesterfield County can return to in-person learning. The school board voted overwhelming Tuesday to send students back to classrooms.  

Before the vote, high school teacher Liz O’Shea told the board it’s essential for students to continue to have the option to learn virtually. O’Shea teaches at L.C. Bird High School said many of her students are afraid to go back to in-person learning because they live in multi-generational households and don’t want to bring the coronavirus into their homes. And she said many of her students live in families whose lives have been upended, and may even have to work to support their families.

“One of my students works 40 hours a week, at a Gray’s grocery store, and then goes with her mother to clean office buildings from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. every weekday. She comes to my study hall or meets me on Saturdays to make up her work,” O’Shea said. 

In an emotional plea to the board, O’Shea said, “I urge you to think about these students who don’t feel that they have a choice, other [than] to stay virtual. This is what is meant by inequity.”

O’Shea was one of a handful of teachers who asked the board to make sure the district has all the necessary mitigation strategies in place, from a supply of protective equipment to an ability to enforce health guidelines, before a vote.

A few parents shared that they were excited to have more kids back into school buildings.

In the meeting, school officials said that they’re following the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Health Department’s guidelines, which in some cases state that 3-feet distance in school settings is OK between students, while educators should be at least 6-feet apart. 

Superintendent Merv Daugherty told the board that the district is providing face shields and in some cases desk barriers to help in cases where the 6-feet rule won’t work. Daugherty also said that the choice to send children back to in-person classes or stay virtual is up to families. 

“We are providing opportunities and you get to choose. We’re not mandating that you come to school. It’s either you come to school online or you come to school face to face,” Daugherty said.

Teacher Vaccinations

In an email to staff on Tuesday, Daugherty said all high school and middle schools teachers should receive their doses on Thursday.

He said any elementary teachers or bus drivers who missed their first shot will have a make-up opportunity soon.  The district also said they hope to provide vaccination clinics for substitute teachers, teacher assistants and central office staff next week.

In a survey sent to teachers, over 80% indicated they would be  interested in vaccination.

Daugherty says he anticipates all Pre-K through 12th grade teachers, instructional staff and bus drivers should be fully vaccinated by March 5.

Return to in-person classes will start March 9--four days after all teachers and staff are expected to be fully vaccinated. 

 

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