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!
WHAT WE KNOW
PROPOSAL TO THE SCHOOL BOARD
Middle and high school
WANT TO LEARN MORE
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:
Middle and high schools
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.