Expecting a spike in COVID cases, Charlottesville School Board unsure how to plan for reopening
As national concern grows around the potential for another surge of COVID-19 this winter, the Charlottesville School Board is continuing to finalize its plans for in-person learning in the new year.
Board members at Thursday’s meeting received a presentation of recent survey results that indicated preferences for in-person and virtual learning.
Current drafts of the reopening plans would have preschool through sixth grade students beginning in-person classes on Jan. 11 and upward grades resuming on Feb. 1. After hours of deliberation, the board unanimously voted to approve moving forward with planning and to reassess by Dec. 16.
Concerns ranged from rising COVID-19 case numbers nationally and in Virginia, bus transportation and the logistics of teachers juggling in-person with virtual and asynchronous instruction.
The latter is particularly a concern for high school, where teachers are certified for particular classes and the plans would see an increase in asynchronous learning — where students work independently on assignments — from one to three days a week.
“I 100% support the model at the elementary schools and Walker [Upper Elementary School]. I would like to support February [first] for Buford [Middle School] and the high school, if we could come up with a better model,” board Chairperson Jennifer McKeever said.
Charlottesville High School Principal, Eric Irizarry explained that the proposed schedule can be revised but that there’s little wiggle room for drastic changes given the composition of teachers.
He noted that teachers must be certified for particular subject matters and there is often one of each. He noted advanced placement and engineering classes in particular would be a challenge when balancing the schedules with in-person and virtual learning.
With the board expected to vote next month, looking to other institutions is something CCS is prepared to do.
Irizarry said that he will be meeting with other high schools as his team fine tunes its proposed schedule and Assistant Superintendent Kim Powell noted that CCS can learn from how other reopened schools have been operating with regards for potential needs to revert back to virtual learning more broadly or totally.
“What seems to happen with the school districts around us that are already operating in-person is that when there’s a case they go through contact tracing and they determine if the transmission was in the school or school division or not and that seems to drive the decision across the state with whether or not they are advised to return to virtual learning for a classroom, for a school, or for a district,” Powell said.
CCS Superintendent Rosa Atkins explained that even if the area is not seeing high incident or positivity rates, situational monitoring could determine reverting back.
“If we have an outbreak in our schools, depending on where the spread is occurring, that may also cause us to come back and ask the board, ‘Let’s move back to virtual learning,” Atkins said. “So, it is situational. We will use the metrics, but we will also use situations to help guide us.”
With COVID-19 concerns ever-present, Charlottesville schools are moving forward with reopening plans and continued virtual learning with the ability to reassess and adjust those plans next month.
As cases are rising nationally and around the state, the Charlottesville area appears to be a bit better off, the situation could change in a moment. Health and elected officials have expressed concern for gatherings as holidays approach.
Meanwhile, the schools’ superintendent took a moment during the meeting to commend the community for its collective vigilance in helping lessen the virus’ spread.
Atkins explained that even if the area is not seeing high incident or positivity rates, situational monitoring could determine reverting back.
“When you look at the state of Virginia, we are in a bubble right now,” Atkins said. “I think it’s because wearing a mask in Charlottesville has become the norm. Safety is on everyone’s mind. I commend the community for making that happen.”