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Henrico delays return of students to classrooms for in-person learning indefinitely

Posted at 4:25 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 17:33:49-05

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Henrico families looking forward to sending their children back to school in the coming weeks will now have to wait longer to do so.

Henrico Schools announced it would delay the return to in-person learning so school nurses could be involved with the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to school employees.

A new return date for in-class learning has not yet been announced.

The following is an email Superintendent Amy Cashwell sent to Henrico families:

  • Henrico County and HCPS are prioritizing making the COVID-19 vaccine available to thousands of preK-12 HCPS employees as quickly as possible.
  • In order to vaccinate thousands of people efficiently, HCPS school nurses will be needed to assist in the effort, which is a critical detail that has newly emerged since last week’s communication.
  • As a result, HCPS nurses will be pulled away from their schools temporarily.
  • We will delay our return to expanded in-person learning across all grade levels because having schools with no nurses present would result in staffing levels that won’t meet our expectations for implementing the HCPS COVID-19 Health Plan for larger numbers of students.

Henrico families,

I write today about an important moment in our community’s public health. As you may know, all HCPS employees will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and shots will start to be administered next week. It is important to note the incredible collaboration that exists in Henrico County in order to make this possible. Our general government and health department partners are working with us to prioritize the vaccine for HCPS and others in Virginia’s “Phase 1B.” Positive relationships like the ones we enjoy don’t exist in all localities, and I thank County Manager John Vithoulkas for what he and his teams are doing to benefit HCPS.

This undertaking is ambitious and requires an "all hands on deck" effort by our community. The effort relies on flexibility and teamwork in order to achieve our long-term goal, and HCPS has a critical role to play. That means, once again, there will be some new changes to what we announced last week about plans to return students to school in person. Let me explain why:

In order to expedite vaccinations for the thousands of HCPS employees who are part of “Phase 1B” in the state’s vaccination effort, school nurses are going to play a key role. In particular, HCPS nurses from all of our schools learned today that their expertise will play an important part in administering the vaccine to HCPS employees, as well as others who fall into “Phase 1B.” This will be a time-consuming, but ultimately necessary and worthwhile effort that will require our nurses to be away from schools for a period of time. This is a critical detail that has newly emerged since we communicated our plans a week ago. I hope we can agree that none of us want to bring more students back into buildings without the expected level of student health support, as that is important to fully implementing our COVID-19 Health Plan. For that reason, I believe it is best for learning to continue in the predominantly virtual format for all grade levels until our school nurses can complete this important community need.

How long will this take? The vaccine requires two doses, given weeks apart, so the effort may last until some point in late February, but I do not have a firm timeline to share today. I will share new timelines at a later date.

I humbly ask for patience and forgiveness, particularly from our teachers who are eager to return to in-person learning, as well as from our families who enthusiastically opted to return their students to our schools and showed tremendous confidence in our health-risk mitigation planning. I share your heartache and frustration over the continuous delays to our timelines, and I know how important it is for our students to have access to in-person learning. However, in light of this new phase in our battle against coronavirus, I know that we are choosing the right path forward for our employees, our students and our community.

Let there be no doubt about the overwhelming good that comes from getting through vaccinating all of “Phase 1B” expeditiously. This is a tremendously positive step for the entire Henrico County community. More vaccinations, as quickly as possible, means less spread in our own community and sets us all on a path toward getting back to normal in all aspects of our lives, including school.

To recap:

  • Henrico County and HCPS are prioritizing making the COVID-19 vaccine available to thousands of preK-12 HCPS employees and others in Virginia’s “Phase 1B” as quickly as possible.
  • In order to vaccinate thousands of people efficiently, HCPS school nurses will be needed to assist in the effort, which is a critical detail that has newly emerged since last week’s communication.
  • As a result, HCPS nurses will be pulled away from their schools temporarily.
  • We will delay our return to expanded in-person learning across all grade levels because having schools with no nurses present would result in staffing levels that won’t meet our expectations for implementing the HCPS COVID-19 Health Plan for larger numbers of students.
  • We do not know how long the “Phase 1B” vaccination efforts will take, but they may last into February, partly because the vaccine requires two doses, given weeks apart.
  • We will be back in touch at a later date with new timelines for an expanded return to in-person learning.

Other items of note:

  • Limited in-person learning continues “as is” for special education, English language learning, Career and Technical Education, and select students in grades PreK-3.
  • The Virginia High School League timeline for fall sports remains intact as previously communicated.
  • For elementary schools: The previously communicated half-day for preK-5 students on Friday, Jan. 22 will stand. (As shared last week, this replaces the student half-day that had been scheduled for Jan. 29. Jan. 29 has become a full instructional day for students in grades preK-5.)
  • In order to make up for lost learning time and to close achievement gaps, HCPS is in the early stages of planning robust, optional in-person summer academic programming. Expect to hear more about this in the weeks to come.

In closing, please join me in sending words of sincere gratitude to our nurses, not only for the work that’s about to get underway, but also for the heroic efforts they’ve made since the beginning of the pandemic. This includes staffing our county’s public health call centers, the HCPS hotline and assisting the Virginia Department of Health with COVID testing, contact tracing and so much more. To our nurses, I say an enthusiastic “Thank you!” and “Bravo!”
As always, I will keep you informed of new information as it becomes available.