Middle and high schoolers headed back to school March 9

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On Feb. 9, the Chesterfield County Public Schools board unanimously approved a return to in-person learning five days a week for students in grades six through 12 on Tuesday, March 9.

Students can still choose to learn 100 percent virtually through the end of the school year.

On Feb. 5, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) requested that all public schools offer some form of in-person learning by March 15.

Deputy Superintendent Thomas Taylor said that the “overwhelming majority” of teachers will have received two COVID-19 vaccinations by March 9.

In spite of that, Taylor said, “We have heard from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and Governor Northam that we don’t need the vaccine to return safely.”

Midlothian board member Dot Heffron said that double masking is the recommended standard when 6 feet of social distancing can’t be maintained.

Dale board member Debbie Bailey asked Taylor why the district waited for a second vaccine for secondary teachers but didn’t for the first three cohorts, which included special populations of students and prekindergarten through fifth grades.

“Transmission of the virus seems to be stronger at the secondary level and not so much at the elementary level,” Taylor said. He later added, “You can never fully mitigate 100 percent of risk.”

The latest research from the Harvard Global Health Institute encourages school districts to begin re-introduction of students into the school house setting, despite higher levels of COVID-19 spread in the community, according to a board document.

Nick Oyler, the district’s coordinator of student health services, noted that the county has received both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Also on Feb. 9, the board held a public hearing on Superintendent Merv Daugherty’s recommended Fiscal Year 2022 budget of $759.4 million, which represents $55.6 million more than the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.

During public comment, Dominique Chatters, secretary for the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee, thanked the board for offering vaccinations for all teachers by March 9. “But that doesn’t make the school building a safe workplace,” she said. Chatters asked that all staff, students and families be vaccinated before returning secondary grades to in-person learning.

Chatters said Bellwood Elementary School is lacking a proper air filtration system.

The board is scheduled to approve its operating budget and 2022-2028 capital improvement plan at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 25.

In other news, Daugherty introduced Lesley Harris as the new principal at the Chester Early Childhood Learning Center. The school for 3- and 4-year-olds is slated to open in the fall. Harris’ first day is March 1.

During a Feb. 17 work session, Daugherty said he hoped that a bond would be approved by the voters for new school buildings in the future based on increased population.

However, Bailey alluded to the county supervisors’ recent decision to delay such a voter referendum until November 2022 at the earliest. “They will not put a bond on the ballot this November,” she said.

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