Public schools in Charlottesville and Albemarle County can reopen in-person without vaccinating all their staff, the Blue Ridge Health District said.
“There are many mitigation strategies that need to be implemented for schools to successfully prevent the spread of COVID-19. Vaccines are a helpful tool for protecting staff,” said Kathryn Goodman, spokeswoman for the health district.
BRDH supports the reopening of the schools because in-person learning has several benefits, Goodman said, including the importance of emotional, behavioral, social and developmental learning.
BRDH meets weekly with public, private and independent schools and discusses the latest COVID-19 vaccination plans, local data and school mitigation strategies, she said.
“We have worked with community partners to vaccinate a large number of school employees and are still working towards vaccinating all school employees who want a vaccine in the district,” she said.
Amid an outcry from the community to reopen the schools, including parents citing concerns over students’ mental well-being, the city and county schools have made plans to accommodate those who may need such services.
At Albemarle County Public Schools, which has recently voted to offer in-person instruction for children of all ages, there’s a need for 1,045 teachers. There are 912 who agreed to teach in person.
There are 415 teachers who reported having received their first vaccine dose, said county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita, and two who said they have received both doses.
He added that there are 444 teachers who are scheduled to get vaccinated and 51 others who have yet to schedule their appointment.
He said the division does not require all of its 1,342 teachers to teach in person. So far, 102 have requested federal Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations.
Principals are setting staffing based on students requesting in-person learning, he said.
“Teacher assignments are based upon that number. All but two of these accommodations have been granted,” he said.
He said it is not possible for the division to know a date when all teachers will receive at least the first dose of the vaccine.
“The rate at which teachers will be vaccinated is not determined by the school division, but by the supply of vaccines to the health department,” he said.
He added that teachers will be able to teach in-person if not vaccinated.
“Keep in mind that they will be following the mitigation strategies in place in all of our schools to keep students and staff safe. The process for how a teacher receives a vaccination appointment is determined by the public health authorities,” he said.
“At the health department’s request. We forward to them the list of employees, who then are requested to register and make an appointment online.”
Charlottesville City Schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk said the division is still working with families but is anticipating having around 60% of its PreK to sixth-grade students in person.
Cheuk said the city schools are well positioned with vaccines, thanks to the BRHD and the Charlottesville-UVA-Albemarle Regional Emergency Operations Center.
“All staff were simultaneously uploaded into the regional sign-up system for the vaccines following instructions from the BRHD. Some staff have made individual appointments through community clinics,” she said.
“We are working to schedule appointments for those staff members who have yet received their first dose. Obviously, our plans depend on vaccine availability, but we are working toward the goal of having at least the first dose completed for all staff who wish to be vaccinated. … Across the country, teachers have been teaching prior to vaccination, and we respect the personal or medical reasons staff may have for not being vaccinated.”