By a 4-1 vote with Midlothian board member Dot Heffron dissenting, the Chesterfield school board on Jan. 12 approved a return to in-person learning on Feb. 1 for prekindergarten through fifth-grade students.
The remaining grades would return to in-person instruction at an undetermined time. Parents and students who want to remain 100 percent virtual can do so.
Clover Hill board member Kathyrn Haines was hopeful that all teachers would have a COVID-19 vaccination by March 1, thus enabling the return of secondary school students.
The vote followed the direction of staff and was based on a revised recommendation from Harvard University’s Global Health Institute.
Referring to Harvard’s report, Haines noted that having students 3 feet apart and students and staff 6 feet apart while wearing masks was deemed safe.
Haines said she would support the recommendation as long as students on school buses were one per seat.
“I hope the delay of secondary (students’ return) will help build trust that we lost in the fall,” Haines said. She noted that the district had a 1 percent virus transmission rate when in school last year.
Heffron said that the district had 46 cases of the coronavirus per 100,000 on Jan. 12, which was 4.5 times higher than what the district had when it proceeded with hybrid instruction last year.
“The science and their recommendations [have]evolved,” Dale member Debbie Bailey said. “Either you believe the mitigation strategies will keep you safe or you don’t.”
Bermuda board member Ann Coker — who was voted vice-chair at the Jan. 12 meeting — said “either option has risks,” but called the approval “a step in the right direction.”
Matoaca board member Ryan Harter — who was voted chair — said the hybrid model the district used last year was not working well. He noted that a representative of the Virginia Department of Health said that Chesterfield’s virus mitigation strategies are adequate.
Also of note is that new technology is available to blur the background when students use their camera for virtual instruction, according to the staff report. As such, all students who receive virtual instruction will be expected to have their camera on at their teacher’s direction, although parents may elect to waive the camera expectation by notifying their child’s school in writing.
Last week, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that 3,700 county residents petitioned the school board to keep learning 100 percent virtual until all staff are vaccinated.
Early childhood center
In other news, the school board voted 5-0 to rename the old Harrowgate Elementary School the Chester Early Childhood Learning Center. The school is slated to open for prekindergarten and other classes in the fall.
As part of the consent agenda, the school board approved their meeting calendar for 2021. The board will next meet Feb. 9, when it will hold a public hearing on the fiscal 2022 budget. A special meeting will be held Feb. 25 to adopt the budget. Budget work sessions are scheduled for Feb. 2 and 17.
The board will regularly meet the second Tuesday of the month, with no meeting scheduled for July.