HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Henrico County Schools announced Tuesday it would delay the return of elementary school students to in-person learning two weeks due to the post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases.
Students in pre-K through second grade had been scheduled to return to in-person learning on Monday. Now, students in grades pre-K through fifth, whose families chose to return in-person, would begin on Monday, January 25.
Middle and high school students were not scheduled to go back to in-person learning until February at the earliest.
That date has not changed.
Superintendent Amy Cashwell wrote in an email to parents that evolving guidance from health experts plus their own mitigation measures improved confidence in a return to the classroom.
"From the start, we have maintained not only our commitment to serving our students, but to keeping an eye toward prioritizing the health and safety of our staff, students, and community. Moving forward will be no different. As mentioned earlier, an important element of our approach moving forward will be continued monitoring of health and safety conditions at each school and being responsive at the individual school level," Dr. Cashwell said.
But some parents and teachers have criticized that decision, especially during the pandemic that has worsened as of late.
On Tuesday, Henrico County reported 214 additional COVID-19 cases and three new deaths. Virginia also reported the highest percent positivity of new recorded cases at more than 16 percent.
“This virus terrifies me, but my kid is going back! I will never under-appreciate a teacher in my life!” one Henrico parent commented on Facebook.
Tara Courtland’s elementary student will not join their classmates when they return to the classroom in two weeks.
“I never thought I'd say my children would want to go back to school, but they’re not going to,” she stated. “We are not going to let them go back in person. It doesn’t feel safe and I don’t know how you can say it’s safe when the numbers are doing what they’re doing right now.”
Henrico-Richmond Health District Director Dr. Danny Avula has maintained that schools are not super-spreader events.
The key, he said, was the implementation of social distancing, mask-wearing, cleanings, and other tools to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“Schools, when they are executing an effective safety plan, are remarkably safe places for kids and for teachers,” Avula said during a health chat with Henrico Schools spokesperson Andy Jenks.
Jenks said approximately 36 percent of Henrico students will return to the classroom.
“We will have the teachers to meet the needs of the students who will be attending our schools in person,” he explained.
The school system also planned to hire additional teacher assistants and other staff to help the grades where other teachers are focused on virtual instruction.
HCPS Back to School Safely Facebook group, made up of educators and teachers, called the plan “unjustifiable.”
“HCPS Back to School Safely strongly disagrees with the county’s decision to continue with in-person learning. We are currently living through the worst surge in the pandemic: Numbers are skyrocketing, hospitals are at capacity, and two new variants have been detected," the group wrote. "The county expects teachers to return to the classroom without being vaccinated against the virus, and for students to return by the hundreds without being vaccinated as well."
The group has advocated remaining virtual through the second semester or until students, teachers and staff can be vaccinated against the virus.
“The plan put forth by the county is unjustifiable, putting the lives of faculty, staff, and students at great risk. Furthermore, the county earlier established the metrics, which they would use to assess re-opening. They have repeatedly stated that if the rates were high, schools were closed. The rates are high, yet schools are opening,” the statement read.
Chesterfield County Public School students are scheduled to remain in virtual learning through the end of the month.
Richmond Public School made the decision to keep students virtual for the rest of the 2020-21 school year.