RICHMOND, Va. -- As the snow on the ground melts, parents in Central Virginia are preparing to send their children back to school for the spring semester.
While Theresa Kennedy is laughing now, she can't lie that she's a bit nervous having her children return to classrooms amid a record surge in COVID cases.
"Of course I want my kids to stay home and to not be exposed to anything," Kennedy said.
Despite her concerns, the Richmond mother says that her kids need to be in the classroom.
"Virtual school took a toll on so many parents and it took a toll on so many kids," Kennedy said.
Alongside COVID concerns for students, there are worries that there won't be enough teachers inside of schools due to the coronavirus.
"We do anticipate that there will be a significant increase in teacher vacancies," Richmond school board member Jonathan Young said.
In Richmond, Young said the growing number of educators out of work because of coronavirus exposures and infections puts a further strain on staff.
"At some point, there's a tipping point where you don't have enough staff to do what is requisite in a building," Young said.
To be clear, RPS isn't at this point yet. However, he said school leaders are planning for the worst.
He said the district can work around what he is calling a chronic staffing shortage by doing the following:
- Pull between 70 to 80 qualified central office employees and put them in the classrooms
- Utilize substitutes
- Bridge classes, which means combining two grade levels together
- For high school students, allowing them to assume teacher responsibilities. For example, more group assignments or project-based learning
Young said that returning to virtual learning would be an absolute last resort.
"There is no intent whatsoever for RPS to do anything but to offer in-person instruction," Young said.
For Henrico schools, officials said teacher absences aren't much different now compared to the beginning of the year but central office staff members are stepping in to cover them.
In Hanover, school leaders say they generally see greater shortages during COVID-19 surges. Like Henrico, they ask central office staff and retirees to help out in times of need. Quarantined teachers also use remote learning to continue instruction.
Chesterfield said that they also rely on the central office and substitutes to fill positions.
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