Chesterfield Schools to move forward with phased return to in-person learning

Chesterfield Schools to move forward with phased return to in-person learning
Chesterfield County Public Schools will be providing students meals without charge due to COVID-19 (coronavirus.) (Source: Chesterfield County Public Schools)

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - The Chesterfield County Public Schools is moving forward with a phased-in return to in-person learning, with the earliest start date being Sept. 29.

Under this plan, students will return in four cohorts.

The first cohort includes students with special needs, level two students in K-12 as determined by individualized learning plans.

Students in Cohort 1 will attend school four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Students in Cohort 2 in grades pre-K to third grade returned to school on Oct. 12.

After a school board meeting on Oct. 13, the school board approved to allow students in Cohort 3 (4th and 5th graders) to return to in-person learning starting on Oct. 26.

“There will be two days of in-person synchronous learning and three days of asynchronous learning (including Wednesdays),” a spokesperson said. “Students would attend Monday/Tuesday and work asynchronously Wednesday/Thursday/Friday, or work asynchronously Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday and in person on Thursday/Friday,” a spokesperson said

The school district held a virtual town hall on Nov. 2 about Cohort 4.

Cohort 4 consists of 6th through 12th graders who will be back in the classroom on a hybrid schedule starting Nov. 9.

Due to Chesterfield’s COVID-19 positivity rate being at 5.9 percent, the school board’s work session was split back in October on whether they should continue with Cohort 4 or not.

The positivity rate is a little higher than what school board officials presented when they voted to go back to school, which is 5.8 percent.

Cohort 4 will be split into two groups.

One group will be returning to in-person learning on Mondays and Tuesdays. The other group will be returning on Thursdays and Fridays.

Face masks and social distancing are required in order to be in the buildings.

The district is taking a systematic, step by step approach to returning students to the classroom. While leaders would love to have everyone back, it’s not that simple.

Addressing the school board Monday night, a former PTA representative spoke on behalf of parents she knows who are struggling.

“He’s in kindergarten [attending] virtual school at a daycare with every distraction that comes with a daycare…but because she works two jobs, she can’t spend a lot of time with him.” She also shared the story of a woman with a young, special-needs child. “She has a 3-year-old in preschool. She can’t take her to preschool anymore. She has to have neighbors and friends who will take her preschooler to preschool and pick her up again because she’s sitting with her child on her lap doing virtual schools.”

It’s no secret parents in Chesterfield have rallied in past months, with the majority advocating for the option of in-person instruction for all.

“Our parents do need to understand, we have guidelines and we can not bring 53,000 students into the buildings. We’re not allowed to by any guidelines that are out there in the world,” said Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty.

Yet, the wheels are turning. Come Sept. 29, face-to-face learning will resume, mainly for a portion of special needs students in all grade levels.

They’ll return for four days a week.

“I know they’re the most vulnerable in this situation from a virtual learning standpoint. I’m just very happy we have data to support at least that group coming back and fingers crossed it continues to improve,” said School Board Chair Debbie Bailey.

Under the current plan, Nov. 9 would be the earliest all grade levels could return, but it would only be for 2 days a week. Virtual learning on the other days would still continue.

“Educators have flipped everything they were originally trained to do and are now prepared to meet this new opportunity with style and grace,” said Sonia Smith of the Chesterfield Education Association.

The rollout will happen as school leaders continue to review the latest health trends. That’s why they say they can estimate return dates but it will take the data to solidify them.

The health committee presented data Monday and says the percent positivity rate right now in Chesterfield remains stable at 6.6 percent.

According to VDH, Chesterfield is outperforming the regional data with the UVA metric showing a decline in cases in the county.

The district would then stagger re-entry all the way through October and early November. The school board approved the metrics and the cohorts on August 11, which means CCPS can move forward with plans to phase students back into schools.

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