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Chesterfield Schools won’t budge on return despite teacher concerns: 'We feel undervalued'

Posted at 11:25 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 09:18:00-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) elementary students are scheduled to return to face-to-face learning five days a week on Monday.

Some teachers and parents have urged school leaders to reconsider.

The Chesterfield Education Association (CEA) has called for all teachers and staff to get vaccinated before returning to in-person instruction.

“As a parent, I absolutely understand the need for our children to be with their teachers,” CEA president Sonia Smith said. “We got to make sure we are taking care of everyone.”

More than half of elementary students (52%) have requested to go back into the classroom, according to the school system.

One educator, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, said they were concerned about the return.

“We feel like someone is asking us to walk into a burning building and we don’t feel safe doing our jobs,” the educator stated. “We feel undervalued. We feel like we aren’t being considered as important people in this equation.”

Smith said she has also heard from colleagues upset about the decision.

“I have a lot of colleagues that are functioning barely from an empty cup,” she explained. “We can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Despite being the 5th largest school district in Virginia, CCPS received only 750 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for nearly 8,000 employees.

On Tuesday, a CCPS spokesman said the decision by the School Board to return students to in-person learning was made before we even knew vaccines might be available in Chesterfield.

“We continue to believe that our schools are safe; our local data from the fall bore out the medical research that has shown schools are not super spreaders. We will continue to focus on infection control and mitigation strategies, as we did successfully in the fall, when we welcome a majority of our elementary students (52 percent) who have elected to return to the in-person learning environment on Feb. 1,” the spokesman wrote.

The school system sent teachers and staff an email stating they should "stay tuned" for a vaccine update on Wednesday.

"School division staff members are finalizing a revised vaccination schedule for elementary school staff, based on decision points reached late yesterday with county government leadership," wrote Tim Bullis, CCPS Executive Director of Communications and Community Engagement.

The same email obtained by CBS 6 on Tuesday also detailed when and how educators should quarantine if exposed to the coronavirus.

Parents and teachers with the Facebook group, Friends of Chesterfield Public Schools Coalition, presented a petition urging school leaders to reconsider.

Since Friday, the group has received nearly 4,000 signatures.

“Put health before anything. Because if they’re alive and well, they can do their job and they can learn," one retired teacher added.

Chesterfield Superintendent Merv Daugherty’s administration stated they used data from the Harvard Global Health Institute that revealed schools are safe while implementing mitigating strategies.

“And yet the plan abandons the hybrid attendance plan in place during the return in the fall and allows for only three feet of distancing in classrooms if six feet is not possible,” wrote one teacher.

Smith said if school leaders don’t change their minds, then educators will still work hard on February 1.

“We are going to show up. We are going to do our job and we are going to do it well — that’s no questions asked,” she explained. “But, when you have employees that feel belittled, demoralized and they don’t have hope because it doesn’t feel like anyone advocating for them in positions of leadership. That messes with one's ability to effectively deliver instruction to the students that we have been charged to educate and nurture.”