Social distancing ‘not going to be as possible’ in Chesterfield schools this fall – here’s what the district is doing instead

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Students and staff in Chesterfield county will head back to school next week.

As families prepare for the new year, the district is preparing to open with increased COVID-19 protocols in place. Masks are required in all of Virginia’s K-12 schools this fall. Last week, district officials said the mandate should not only cut down on the amount of sick students but also how many have to quarantine.

Video sent from a Chesterfield parent this week shows desks lined in the Meadowbrook High School cafeteria. In the video, water fountains are padlocked and vending machines are empty.

Photos show drinking fountains locked at Meadowbrook High School ahead of the start of the new school year on Aug. 23.

“We want our buildings to be clean and ready for students,” said Chief Operating Officer Josh Davis in a district-produced video posted on social media. He said staff spent the summer preparing schools by doing things like “stripping floors” and installing new air purifiers in old schools that “did not quite meet the standards that ASHRAE has in place for new buildings.”

“We’ve done everything we can to have our older buildings perform to have the indoor air quality that our new buildings have,” he said.

COVID safety measures this fall will look similiar to last. According to the return-to-learn plan presented last week, masks are required, there will be enhanced cleaning and frequency of cleaning, daily health assessments, and quarantining of positive cases.

“When we follow the mitigation processes, our quarantines go down. It’s just that simple,” said Deputy Superintendent Dr. Thomas Taylor.

The district said they will also be reporting in-school transmission to families and adhering to the CDC recommended three feet of social distancing where possible. However, at last week’s school board meeting, Dr. Taylor said roughly 98 percent of students are heading back in-person this fall.

“It’s gonna be tight,” he said. “Social distancing is not going to be as possible in all places as it was in the previous school year.” The district is the largest in central Virginia and 4th largest in the state.

“All the more reason to use every mitigation strategy that we have available if we have to take one away,” said school board member Dot Heffron.

Adding to the concern for some families is the more contagious COVID-19 variant among us: Delta.

Chesterfield County is still in the red-zone for high transmission, according to the CDC. As of Friday afternoon, just five counties in the state are not in the red zone, which means they’re considered highly transmissible for COVID-19.

The district is also still facing a school bus driver shortage. Superintendent Merv Daugherty recently said the district is short 100 drivers and asked parents to drive their students to school if they can.

At last week’s meeting, district heads said that would also help make more social distancing on busses possible. A federal mandate requires children wear masks on busses.

Monday is the first day of school for students in grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9. Tuesday is the first day for students in grades 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12.

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