HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Henrico County School Board decided on a timeline for moving students back to in-person learning at today’s board meeting. The first returns begin on Feb. 22 and all grades will be returning to campus by Mar. 8.
- Feb. 22: Pre-K through second grade returns to in-person learning on Mondays and Tuesdays (Thursdays and Fridays remain virtual)
- Mar. 1: Third through fifth grade, sixth and ninth graders return to in-person learning on Mondays and Tuesdays (Thursdays and Fridays remain virtual)
- Mar. 8: All other secondary students return to in-person learning daily except for Wednesdays
Employees will return to school one week before students.
During the first two weeks of in-person learning, secondary students will only return to school on Mondays and Tuesdays. Starting Mar. 8, all secondary students will attend Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for the rest of the school year.
The School Board met at the New Bridge Learning Center auditorium to provide a COVID-19 vaccination update and timeline for the expansion of in-person learning.
School Board member Michelle Ogburn, Three Chopt District, began the meeting by confirming the board’s support of Henrico Schools Superintendent Dr. Amy Cashwell.
The first item on the agenda was a health committee update from Dr. Beth Teigen.
Teigen confirmed 75 percent of teachers and 60 percent of HCPS staff chose to be vaccinated with the first dose, and all those willing will have received their doses by Friday, Feb. 5. Teigen said the second dose will be available to teachers and staff 28 days after, regardless of the manufacturer.
The district’s health committee also considered potential side effects and staffing shortages during vaccinations. Members claimed that the need for more substitute teachers and health clinics was something to consider.
The Board of Supervisors reaffirmed, the mitigation strategies of HCPS are sound and safe.
According to Teigen, the county’s mitigation efforts include:
- Consistent and correct use of masks available to staff and students
- Inventory of PPE
- Upgraded air filtration
- Double masking is supported but not required
- Six-foot social distancing
- Plexiglass barriers
- Hand sanitizer in every room in each school building
- Bathrooms checked multiple times a day
- Desk guards for teachers and students in grades Pre-K-12
Teigen added four months worth of PPE is stockpiled, with the exception of gloves for which they maintain a four-week supply.
Ventilation systems within school buildings have been adjusted for CDC recommendations, according to the county.
No volunteers are currently allowed in the buildings, but the board is exploring protocols to allow parent volunteers to enter.
Teigen also expressed concern that the need for substitutes could exceed availability.
The expansion of in-person learning was discussed heavily at the meeting, with a phased-in process being recommended beginning with elementary school students first, then secondary students.
“Our schools are safe for students and staff to return before the second dose of the vaccine,” said School Board member Marcie Shea, Tuckahoe District.
Shea recommended a timeline of Feb. 1 for elementary students, Feb. 27 for sixth through ninth graders, and Mar. 1 for the remaining secondary students. She also proposed staff report to the building one week before students return.
School Board member Kristi Kinsella, Brookland District, recommended a later timeline for students with limited in-person hours.
She proposed Pre-K through second grade return the week of Feb. 22, then third through fifth grades return Mar. 1, followed by the rest of secondary students returning Mar. 15.
“Secondary students transmit like adults,” Kinsella said.
Board member Roscoe Cooper who represents the Fairfield District, supported a fully virtual learning plan. Cooper recommended an in-person return after the second dose had been administered. School board member Alicia Atkins, Varina District, said her experiences with COVID-19 informed her decision to propose Mar. 5 as start date for students to return to in-person learning.
Dr. Melissa Viray with the Richmond and Henrico Health District, told school board members that the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is critical. According to Viray, there is an increase in people that suffer from side effects after the second vaccine dose. Viray told school board members that potential side effects could be fatigue, body aches or pain around the vaccination area on the skin. Individuals should not have trouble breathing, a loss of taste and smell or cough.
“I’ve seen tears from a school board member that was exhausted. She thought she did everything she could, recommended by the CDC. I washed my hands and all, still was exposed, and I was COVID positive,” said Atkins.
“There probably isn’t a family on this planet who hasn’t been affected,” Ogburn said.
Ogburn added, she was leaving her own experiences out of her proposal which was for students to return “as soon as possible.” Ogburn said the difficulty of virtual learning was her core driver for returning students to in-person learning.
Ogburn suggested elementary school students return on Feb. 15, with a staggered return by grade level.