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As COVID-19 numbers increase, Virginia schools face new challenges in reopening

Posted at 12:03 AM, Jul 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-14 00:03:27-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- As Richmond area schools consider plans to reopen in the fall, a recent increase in COVID-19 cases is making the process more complicated.

The Virginia Department of Health reported on Monday that COVID-19 cases increased by 2,711 over the weekend. The statewide total is now 71,642 cases. However, the overall percentage of positive COVID-19 test results remains relatively low.

Andy Jenks, Director of Communications with Henrico County Schools, says school districts are considering health data on a daily basis, along with public input.

“It certainly makes it challenging when you’re trying to construct a school reopening plan that you know might only be as good as today’s date,” Jenks said.

Henrico County school leaders will hear from parents, teachers, and staff at an in-person meeting Tuesday night at Glen Allen High School.

The Richmond City School Board plans to vote virtually on a plan to reopen schools during its meeting Tuesday evening and Chesterfield school leaders will vote on a plan on July 20th. Henrico and Hanover County Schools are still gathering public input and haven’t set a date for voting.

Most public school systems are leaning toward models that include either virtual-only learning or a hybrid of virtual and in-person learning at school two days week, with additional options for students with unique needs.

But schools must still consider a number of factors in returning students to the classroom, including the ability to provide effective safety measures and contingency plans if schools are forced to temporarily shut down because of positive cases within the school.

“School systems have to consider an enormous number of variables and questions and I don’t know any school system that has all the answers at this particular point,” Jenks said.

Sonia Smith, President of the Chesterfield Education Association, says numerous uncertainties are why the organization is pushing for virtual-only learning for at least the first nine weeks of school.

“Taking into consideration that there are many employees across the county that are primary caregivers for the elderly or aging parents, or they may have children who have autoimmune issues,” Smith said. “It can really bring a great pause to a number of folks across the school division that are saying ‘is it my livelihood or is it my life?’”