CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- The Chesterfield County School Board voted 4 to 1 to allow some students to return to in-person learning on February 1st.
Elementary students will now have the option to return to the classroom on February 1 or continue virtual. The board voted on the recommendation by Chesterfield Schools Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty during their first meeting of 2021 on Tuesday night.
Middle and high school students will continue with all-virtual learning until returning to in-person classes potentially before the end of the third nine weeks.
Some School Board members split their vote based on their interpretation of the data presented.
Daugherty's team admitted that the system is currently as "high risk" of transmission within the schools, according to COVID-19 data from the Virginia Department of Health. However, they charged that the science proves schools are not super-spreaders.
"Transmission doesn’t occur within school at a high rate or at the same right as community transmission when mitigation strategies are followed with fidelity," said Dale District representative Debbie Bailey.
Dot Heffron, who represents the Clover Hill District, was the lone "no" vote.
"The data is clear with cases and infection rates being what they are I cannot support the recommendation before me," Heffron told the board.
Chesterfield County Public Schools started the school year virtually and started reopening classrooms to younger students in October.
Middle and high school students were given the option to return to classrooms earlier in November. As the number of COVID-19 cases increased, the school system switched back to all-virtual classes after their Thanksgiving break.
Teachers associations statewide have largely remained against reopening during the pandemic.
Before Tuesday's vote, Chesterfield Teacher Association President Sonia Smith urged the board to delay reopening until all teachers and staff are vaccinated.
"We are on the cusp of receiving the vaccine here in Central Virginia. It would make sense to allow for that process to roll out," she explained. "Allow for the vaccine to be distributed. Allow for both doses to take place and what we will be doing is looking at a very successful and healthy solid forth nine-weeks for everybody."
The school system said approximately 85 percent of teachers and staff said they would receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Board also unanimously approved a resolution urging Governor Ralph Northam to prioritize Chesterfield teachers and aides for the COVID-19 vaccine.
About two-thirds of the 21 speakers, who were comprised mostly of parents, spoke in favor of the plan. One group of parents presented a letter signed by more than 700 people urging the board to approve a return to the classroom.
"We are considering moving out of Chesterfield County. Please reopen our schools," one parent stated.
A handful of parents were adamant that a return to in-person learning was a bad idea during the height of the pandemic.
"The reality we live in is virtual school and even if the irresponsible plan passes the responsible families will remain virtual," one father said.