Project Restart – Update Jan. 12, 2021

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Team Chesterfield families,

Please find below a bullet-point summary and then a longer communication regarding a plan to return students to in-person instruction that will be shared with the School Board on Tuesday. We acknowledge in advance that this is a lengthy communication; however, we wanted to be as thorough as we could be.

Thank you for your continued support of your students, their families and our community!

Merv Daugherty
Superintendent

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WHAT WE KNOW

  • Cohort 1 students, select students receiving special education services, remain in school.
  • Our COVID-19 mitigation strategies were effective in limiting transmission within the school setting.
  • Medical research and reports continue to assert that with proper mitigation strategies schools can reopen safely, as they are not deemed to be superspreaders.
  • Public educators are next in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines, with hopes to have the first round of shots in arms by the end of January/beginning of February.

PROPOSAL TO THE SCHOOL BOARD
Elementary school

  • All elementary school students (Cohort Nos. 2-3) would be eligible to return to in-person instruction five days a week starting Feb. 1, the first day of the third nine weeks.
  • Families who are not comfortable returning their children to school may continue to remain in an all-virtual learning environment with an assigned teacher.
  • Families must notify their child’s school if they plan to make a change in their child’s learning accommodations (switching from virtual to in person, or in person to virtual) by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19. The decision is binding for the rest of the semester.

Middle and high school

  • Middle and high school students in Cohort No. 4 will start the third marking period (Feb. 1) in a virtual learning environment five days a week. The formerly asynchronous Wednesdays now will be a synchronous virtual school day, as they were at the beginning of the year.
  • Middle and high school students taking career and technical education classes at CTC@Courthouse and CTC@Hull, as well as students taking CTC-identified courses at Midlothian High, would be eligible to safely return to in-person instruction starting Feb. 1. Students attending Academy 360 also would be eligible to return five days starting Feb. 1.
  • The School Board will meet again in February to review progress with vaccine distribution, elementary re-entry, and review health data and operations to determine at what point during the third marking period it is appropriate to safely return these students to an in-person learning environment.

All students

  • We will make Jan. 29, the final day of the first semester and currently a three-hour early release day, a whole asynchronous learning day instead. This will allow teachers time to finish first-semester grades and prepare their classrooms for the return of students to in-person learning.
  • Daily self-health assessments will continue to be required of all students and staff members. If students or staff members are sick, they may not come to school.
  • We will continue to create instructional environments that allow for the greatest social distancing possible. Social distancing likely will be closer to 3 feet than 6 feet in many locations (classrooms, buses, hallways, etc.) with students returning five days a week. Three feet of social distancing with masks is an accepted recommended distance by many health organizations and the county government’s Risk Management team if 6 feet cannot be maintained.
  • We will continue to enforce the Governor’s Executive Order regarding the required wearing of masks, and will allow ample time for hand washing and other proper hygiene recommendations.

WANT TO LEARN MORE

  • Tune into the School Board’s work session on Tuesday, Jan. 12. The work session will be broadcast via live stream at http://chesterfieldschoolsva.swagit.com/live/ via television on Comcast Channel 98 and Verizon Channel 28.

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Team Chesterfield families,

The Chesterfield County School Board will consider a proposal Tuesday night that would make elementary school students eligible to return to school for in-person learning five days a week at the start of the third marking period (Feb. 1). The proposal would return middle/high school students to a five-day-a-week virtual learning environment to start the third nine weeks, with plans to return these students to in-person learning at some point during the third marking period or at the beginning of the fourth marking period. (While remaining in a virtual learning environment, the asynchronous Wednesdays would be returned to a regular synchronous learning day starting the week of Feb. 1.)

The Board is expected to vote on dates for students to return Tuesday night during its regularly scheduled business meeting.

Chesterfield County Public Schools has been very deliberate about its return to a five-day-a-week, in-person learning environment, focusing on the safety and health of our 60,000-plus students and nearly 7,500 staff members. This deliberate approach has allowed medical and public health experts time to better understand the virus, make recommendations about how to safely reopen schools, and the opportunity to see if the recommendations were correct and adjust where needed. Ten months into the virus, we believe we are at a point where the recommendations have been thoroughly vetted and proven as time-tested through successful implementation elsewhere, and that it is appropriate to return Chesterfield County Public Schools students safely back into classrooms for in-person instruction five days a week.

While case count numbers and positivity rates are higher now than when Chesterfield County Public Schools returned to an all-virtual environment in November, understanding of the COVID-19 virus has continued to evolve. Medical experts and public health officials continue to cite successful mitigation strategies in school settings, along with research that shows schools are not COVID-19 superspreaders, as reasons why public schools can reopen safely at this time. These same experts and officials also continue to point to the negative outcomes associated with missed class time, social isolation, etc. as other reasons to return to in-person learning at this time.

A review of the medical research still emphasizes certain mitigation strategies (masks, handwashing, cleaning, etc.) that would need to remain in place. Data also was reviewed for the timeframes that students were in school. It showed that while the numbers were lower at the elementary level when compared with secondary level cases (average cases per day based on the time spent in-person), in both settings the vast majority of the reported positive tests indicated the main points of origin were outside of the school setting.

While mitigation strategies were similar between settings, the ability at the elementary level to reduce student movement between classroom groups is seen as an additional advantage when compared with the structure of the secondary students’ daily routine. Hence, restarting elementary ahead of secondary in February makes sense as it provides additional time to support the successful implementation of this structure at the elementary schools before the eventual return of middle and high school students.

Medical research that continues to be released acknowledges that schools are not superspreaders. In July, the Harvard Global Health Institute released guidance for school reopenings that recommended that schools should be closed when a community’s average daily case rate rose to approximately 25 cases/100,000 residents. Chesterfield County Public Schools followed this guidance with its November decision to revert back to an all-virtual learning environment.

Recently, the Harvard Global Health Institute and other esteemed research groups (i.e. Brown University) working together on school reopening studies noted that, “Since July, our scientific understanding of COVID has increased significantly, as has our understanding of degrees of risk in schools, and we can now recommend that schools be open even at the very high levels of spread we are now seeing, provided that they strictly implement strategies of infection control.”

Therefore, the proposal to return elementary school students to in-person instruction at the start of the third nine weeks (Feb. 1) and middle/high school students to in-person instruction some time before the end of the third nine weeks continues our school division’s commitment to following medical and health guidance from experts.

If the School Board approves allowing elementary school students to return to school, Chesterfield County Public Schools will continue to enforce the wearing of masks (as required by the Governor’s Executive Order), appropriate use of staff personal protective equipment, frequent use of hand sanitizer, time for hand washing, etc. Social distancing of 3 feet would be in place that still meets the allowances provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Chesterfield County’s Risk Management Department.

So again, here is our proposed plan:

Elementary schools

  • 29: The scheduled three-hour early release for students would become a full asynchronous day for all students. This will allow teachers time to finish first-semester grades and prepare their classroom for the return of students.
  • 1: All Cohort Nos. 2-3 students are eligible to return to in-person instruction five days a week starting with the first day of the third marking period.
  • Notification: Families who desire to make a change to their in-person or virtual choice would need to notify their child’s school by 4 p.m. on Jan. 19. Your school will notify you how to do this. Note: This change may impact who your child’s teacher(s) is/are.
  • Binding: The choice a family makes will be binding for the remainder of the school year.

Middle and high schools

  • 29: The scheduled three-hour early release for students would become a full asynchronous day for all students. This will allow teachers time to finish first-semester grades and prepare their classroom for the eventual return of students.
  • 1: All Cohort No. 4 students would start the third marking period in a virtual learning environment five days a week. (The asynchronous Wednesdays would be eliminated.)
  • February 2021: The School Board will review vaccination and other health data to determine at what point during the third marking period middle and high school students can return to in-person learning five days a week.
  • Notification: Families who desire to make a change to their in-person or virtual choice would need to notify their child’s school. A deadline for doing so will be shared as a final decision is made.

Want to learn more? Tune into the School Board’s work session on Tuesday, Jan. 12. The 4 p.m. work session will be broadcast via live stream at http://chesterfieldschoolsva.swagit.com/live/ via television on Comcast Channel 98 and Verizon Channel 28. The 6:30 p.m. business meeting will be available via live stream and cable TV as well.

Moving forward, we will continue to make COVID-19 related decisions on a case-by-case, classroom-by-classroom, school-by-school basis. Decisions about closing classrooms and/or a school will be made based on community spread within and/or our ability to appropriately staff and operate a facility.

Our previous success with COVID-19 mitigation strategies, the steps we previously took to gather PPE and conduct necessary maintenance on our HVAC systems, and the time-tested studies of and recommendations from medical experts regarding the safe reopening of schools have increased our confidence in our ability to welcome students back to school for in-person learning five days a week. We appreciate the community’s patience and understanding of the time necessary to reach this point.

We are ready and hope you are as well. Together, we can continue to prepare our students to soar to new heights.