HOPEWELL, Va. -- Hopewell school leaders are planning to expand virtual options for students and increase health guidelines in the wake of rising COVID cases across the country involving adolescents.
On Monday night, dozens of concerned parents met face to face with school leaders at a special meeting at Hopewell High School. The meeting was also offered virtually.
State epidemiologists briefed school leaders on the rise in COVID cases in the central region that jumped from 304 cases in mid-summer to 1,854 cases the first week of school in Hopewell. They say the spike in case numbers mirrors similar statistics across the state and country.
Hopewell schools have reported 33 COVID cases, resulting in 200 quarantines for staff and students. Hopewell is the first district in the state to open five days a week to students in a push for year-round school.
"We're doing everything we know how to do and it's still getting past us," said Hopewell school superintendent Melody Hackney.
In response, school leaders are expanding guidelines to include daily temperature screenings, the addition of plexiglass or face shields, increased sanitation and ventilation efforts and appointment requirements for all visitors. All parent-teacher conferences will also be virtual.
School leaders are also planning to offer expanded virtual options to families in the next two weeks. The superintendent says there's a commitment to teachers that they will not have to teach both virtual and in-person learning.
Despite the increased precautions, some frightened parents and grandparents said the adjustments weren't enough to protect vulnerable children and older adults. State law prevents school districts from closing down and dictates a five-day-a-week in-person instruction option for families, except in cases of a widespread COVID outbreak.
"Do we want to risk our kids coming to school and coming home to grandmothers, bringing home something to a little child who is already ill? No, we don't," said Hopewell resident Roslyn Taylor.
However, while many concerns were expressed, other parents talked about the need for schools to remain open five days a week, citing the difficulties of virtual learning and increased mental health problems among young people.
"We are the only school district that is in the news headlines because all eyes are on us because we have every single school in our district open," said one parent. "COVID is a silent killer but mental illness is also a silent killer."