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‘I was angry’: Parents and teachers have mixed feelings as Chesterfield Schools makes switch to virtual learning

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Parents and students in Chesterfield County learned more about how they will transition back to full virtual learning at a special school board meeting Monday.

The school district announced last week that schools would close, as COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the county.

The full virtual instruction began Monday for all students except those in Cohort 1, which is made up of some special education students.

For Amy Dodson, who has an eighth grader and tenth grader in CCPS, the choice for her children to go back to school for the hybrid learning plan was great. Her kids were going to school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and learning from home for the rest of the week.

“The first day, it was everything. I got a text about an hour after school started from my son who said, ‘This is so much better’,” Dodson told 8News.

However, that would only last for a matter of days. Chesterfield School officials were watching the county’s 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. Once that number hit 25 cases, schools would close.

On Nov. 25, officials announced the closure after the 7-day average reached 26.5 cases.

“I was angry, admittedly. I was really angry,” Dodson said.

She began asking school officials about the metric used to determine the closure. In an email, CCPS Executive Director of Constituent Services Dr. Joseph Tylus told Dodson the 25 cases per 100,000 residents metric “is not arbitrary.”

CCPS said the school health committee decided on the metric after doing research, and that it also aligns with the Harvard Global Health Institute‘s highest metric.

Wanting to learn more, Dodson reached out to Harvard Global Health Institute.

In an email, Dr. Thomas Tsai with the institute told Dodson he thinks “the solution isn’t to simply cancel in-person school, but find the will to make in-person school safe.”

“I would like the choice. I would like for the county system to give teachers and children a choice,” Dodson said.

However, CCPS said they and the Chesterfield Health Department agree that more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents is unsustainable for a hybrid school model.

Some teachers, like Christine Melendez, have been pushing for a return to virtual learning. Melendez is part of Chesterfield Educators United, a group that was disappointed in the school district’s handling of the pandemic.

In the slideshow presented at Monday’s special meeting, CCPS said their goal is to return to face-to-face instruction for all students as quickly and safely as possible.

CCPS pointed out other metrics supporting the decision to close. According to the school district, there have been 133 COVID-19 cases among staff and students since Cohort 2 returned on Oct. 12.

Although there is no evidence of substantial school transmission, students and staff are part of families and communities where the spread is increasing, CCPS added.

They also pointed out that the county positivity rate is at eight percent, which is a 43 percent increase since the final group of students returned in-person on Nov. 9.

Under the new virtual learning format, elementary students in grades pre-kindergarten through 5 will have virtual instruction five days per week with a shortened schedule.

Students in grades six through 12 will have virtual instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday with a regular operating schedule. Wednesday will remain an “asynchronous day” where students work independently.

Cohort 1, which is made up of some special education students, will remain eligible for in-person instruction four days per week.

Specific information on the virtual learning schedule at each school can be found in the slideshow here.

CCPS said virtual learning will continue until Jan. 29, 2021, which is the end of the first semester. The school board will re-evaluate data at their business meeting on Jan. 12.

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