CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Chesterfield County Public School students will attend school virtually this fall. School leaders voted 4-1 on the reopening plan in a special school board meeting Monday evening.
Matoaca representative Ryan Harter was the only Chesterfield School Board member to vote against the plan.
Earlier on Monday, Chesterfield Superintendent Mervin Daugherty expressed his support for Option 6, a virtual start to the 2020 school year.
The Chesterfield Education Association also said it supported a 100 percent fully virtual option to keep students, teachers, and staff safe from possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus..
"It is recommended that the School Board adopt Option 6, tied to the Governor’s Phase III reopening plan for the opening of the 2020-2021 school year until further metrics and guidance from regulatory agencies can be provided," Daugherty wrote in a memo to the Chesterfield School Board.
During Monday night’s four-hour session, school board members heard from Chesterfield County’s Department of Risk Management, the Chesterfield County Health Department, the superintendent, and other administrators regarding the benefits and risk factors of each option.
Other options the board considered included in-person classes for all students and a mixed schedule where students are in class half the time and learn from home the other half.
While 82 percent of parents said they would send their children to school if Chesterfield students go to school 5 days a week, the most popular alternative choices included virtual learning only or alternating two days of virtual learning with two days of in-class instruction.
Those in favor of virtual-only learning were concerned about what in-person instruction would mean for teachers and students with health conditions that put them at serious risk because of the virus.
Those in favor of classroom instruction cited the emotional and mental health of students and the impact on young, low income, and minority students and students with disabilities.
Nearly 30 people spoke before school board members Monday night.
“At-risk students will suffer disproportionately, especially those from low-income families, those with learning problems and other serious issues,” retired educator and parent Dan Rucker said. “I have no doubt they’re already falling behind academically and will continue to do so.”
While a vast majority of speakers voiced support for some form of in-person classroom instruction, the safety concerns of students and teachers, remained the largest factor for most school board members.
“It’s unreasonable to ask teachers to risk long term negative health consequences or death in the face of a global pandemic whose risks we are only now starting to understand,” said parent Lindsey Daugherty.
Prior to Monday evening’s meeting, more than 100 parents, teachers, students, and staff members held dueling rallies outside the Chesterfield County Administration building. Some held signs outside while others honked horns from their cars in the parking lot.
The superintendent said he hoped to transition from all virtual learning to a hybrid of in school/virtual learning once safety conditions allow. He said high-risk students will be the first to come back to the classroom.
As part of the virtual model, teachers will also be teaching from their classrooms, while students follow normal schedules with daily new instruction and graded work. Chromebook laptops will be provided for every student in grades K-12.
Chesterfield students will begin virtual classes on Sept. 8