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Henrico students denied virtual learning: 'It’s a big concern'

Mom: 'As soon as my kids can get vaccinated, I’m going to get them vaccinated'
Virus Outbreak Distance Learning
Posted at 3:03 PM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 18:11:38-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Sarah Williams had a glimmer of hope when she signed up her two young children for the Henrico Virtual Academy this fall.

“I have a compromised immune system myself. I am vaccinated. But both of my children are too young to get vaccinated,” Williams said. "It’s a big concern to me."

However, she found out by email on Tuesday that her kindergartener and third grader were denied spots to attend classes virtually this year. Williams’ children were two of the 3,000-plus students that were signed up on the waitlist.

“Once I saw how many were on the list, I realized we probably wouldn’t get in,” she recalled. “At this point, I’m preparing for us to get sick.”

Virus Outbreak Distance Learning
Logan Strauss, 5, participates in an online class from home in Basking Ridge, N.J., Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Logan's parents are keeping him out of school until he gets the COVID-19 vaccine. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

About 1,500 students grades K through 12 were admitted to the Henrico Virtual Academy, according to Henrico Schools spokesperson Andy Jenks.

More than 540 students on the waitlist were given spots with Virginia Department of Educations "Virtual Virginia" program instead, which is free of charge to those families.

"We’ve got about 2,428 who remain on a waitlist for virtual learning, and those families are being welcomed to their home school for in-person learning," Jenks wrote in an email. "We also shared options for homeschool instruction, should a family want to go that route, though we hope they will choose to remain with us. And yes, if a virtual learner/family chooses to go back to in-person learning in the coming days, we’d fill that spot from the waitlist."

However, Williams' fears stemmed from the number of positive COVID-19 cases reported in Chesterfield.

On Thursday, the county reported seven new coronavirus cases inside the schools. Students account for five of those positive tests adding to the more than 200 cases the school system has reported since classes started on Aug. 23.

CBS 6 caught up with Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane following a tour of Swift Creek Elementary in Chesterfield on Thursday.

“Certainly, we would like to see less cases in schools. When we look at the data a lot of the cases in schools is coming from community transmission and not in school transmission,” Lane stated. “I think it’s a reason to continue getting more and more of our students 12 and older vaccinated. We got to make sure that we are properly masking all of our students and putting in all the mitigation strategies to keep them safe.”

Dr. Lane reassured parents will not see entire school districts close due to a COVID-19 outbreak this year.

“Senate bill 1303 requires our school division to work in consultation with the health department to make those decision and they’re made on a case-by-case basis based on the circumstances,” he explained.

Instead, individual students or classrooms will quarantine in the case of an exposure. Dr. Lane hoped children ages five and up will soon see approval to get vaccinated.

Until then, Williams’ children will start in-person at Echo Lake Elementary on Sept. 8. Homeschooling isn't an option for her family as both parents work full-time.

“We’re still going to keep wearing masks and as soon as my kids can get vaccinated, I’m going to get them vaccinated,” she said. “I’ve actually tried to get them in trials locally to get them vaccinated.”

Jenks noted that HCPS was one of the few school districts in the area to create a “home grown” virtual school of its size with a separate principal, teachers and support staff.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.