No classes for Hopewell City Schools Friday as division battles “critical staffing shortage” due to COVID

The Tri-Cities

HOPEWELL, Va. (WRIC) — Hopewell City Public Schools staff “became so significantly impacted by quarantines and COVID cases” that the district closed all of its schools on Friday.

School officials did not explicitly give a reason when initially notifying families in a letter late Thursday night, only citing a “critical staffing shortage.” The school closure applies to in-person and virtual instruction, but staff was asked to come in for a workday.

Byron Davis, the district’s supervisor of balanced calendar implementation, wrote in an email Friday that Hopewell schools were closed because “our staffing became so significantly impacted by quarantines and COVID cases.”

Davis noted that VDH and the Virginia Department of Education have each indicated three vital pieces of data for the school district to safely operate schools: transmission rates within the school and community, the number of absent students and having adequate staff.

The letter sent to parents read, “Our goal continues to be to provide in-person instruction in a way that we maximize health and safety.”

“In the meantime, we want to echo what we heard from VDH to our community. It is critically important for every individual who can be vaccinated to do so; and, for all of us to make choices that will minimize the spread of this dangerous virus,” Davis wrote. “We need everyone’s help to ensure our students can safely be in school as soon as possible.”

Parents have expressed their concern after the school closure. Humberto Chavez has two children in the district. Chavez said he knew it was coming.

“I knew it was going to be a matter of time. Me and my wife talked about it. It’s going to be a matter of time before they shut it down and go back to work virtual,” Said Chavez.

Earlier this month, Hopewell Schools held a town hall for concerned parents as cases spiked in classrooms.

Students returned for in-person learning on July 26th. Since then, 80 covid cases have been reported, 11 of which are staff.

Friday, the Virginia Department of Health established a drive-thru COVID-19 testing event at Hopewell High School for staff. Katrina Saphrey is an Epidemiologist with the Crater Health District and has been working closely with school officials.

“Testing is and is going to remain important for early detection,” said Saphrey.

In the meantime, Superintendent Melody Hackney told 8news, the school district started preparing a virtual model two weeks ago.

Staff members at Hopewell schools being tested for COVID-19 at Hopewell High School on Friday. Photo: Rachel Keller/8News
Cars lined up at Hopewell High School on Friday for a COVID-19 testing event. Photo: Rachel Keller/8News

“When this happened, the actual uptick in cases significantly high in Hopewell City, that happened the very same time we were starting school,” said Hackney. “We’ve had to work very aggressively, seven days a week and sometimes many hours in the day to be prepared for what delta has brought us in a very short time and with very little opportunity to predict or plan.”

As students were home today, the district was finalizing those efforts, preparing to offer the virtual option this upcoming week. However, Hackney said less than 10% of families showed interest.

“It’s important to us that parents have control of these decisions and that they have choice in those decisions,” said Hackney.

Kimberly Williams is a parent of children that attend Hopewell City Public Schools. Williams expressed her thoughts on a need for a virtual program.

“We need a balance for those that want virtual and those that want their children to be in school. That was successful for many last year. The problem has become parents sending their children to school while waiting on test results or after receiving a positive result. No vaccine stands a chance against that,” said Williams.

By 8:30 p.m. Friday, a message from superintendent Melody Hackney posted to the school system’s Facebook page said schools will be open at their normal times on Monday.

“We look forward to welcoming all HCPS family members back next week!” the message said.

The virtual option will be delayed to Tuesday, Aug. 24. A special meeting of the Hopewell School Board has been called for Monday, Aug. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the school board office (103 N. 12th St., Hopewell, VA 23860).

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