Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) announced on Tuesday that the division is delaying the return to in-person learning for pre-kindergarten and elementary school students until the end of January because of the area’s current COVID-19 numbers.
HCPS Superintendent Amy Cashwell made the announcement and discussed the subsequent changes to the timeline for returning to the classroom in an online message to families.
Cashwell said the HCPS Health Committee, after meeting over the holidays and most recently on Monday, came to her and the division’s leadership team recommending to move forward with in-person learning, but after a small delay.
“Evolving guidance from health experts plus our own experience and increased implementation of safety measures give us improved confidence that schools can be safe with the right risk-mitigation in place,” Cashwell wrote in the letter. “From the start, we have maintained not only our commitment to serving our students, but to keeping an eye toward prioritizing the health and safety of our staff, students and community. Moving forward will be no different.”
The delay will only impact students whose families chose the in-person learning option back in October, when the school board adopted a return to the classroom plan and told families they had to make a year-long commitment for their child of either virtual or face-to-face instruction.
Students in pre-kindergarten and elementary school were supposed to return to the classroom either next Monday or Thursday. Now, grades pre-kindergarten through 5th will start in-person learning on January 25 and attend school every day except Wednesdays.
Secondary integrated services students in middle and high school, will return to their classrooms at the same time as the younger cohorts on the 25th. They were previously set to return on Monday.
Middle and high school students in grades 6 and 9 will come back on February 1, while grades 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12 will return to school on February 4. All of these students will learn in-person for four days a week and the return dates are unchanged from before.
The Virginia Star made several inquiries to reach HCPS parents and staff for comment on the delay, but did not get responses before press time.
Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Henrico County Health Department and now tasked with leading Virginia’s vaccination program, discussed current coronavirus numbers and the safety of schools during a virtual chat on Tuesday with Andy Jenks, director or communications and public relations at HCPS.
“What we’ve seen consistently now for almost a year around the country, around the world and even here in the state of Virginia is that schools, when they are executing an effective safety plan, are remarkably safe places for kids and for teachers,” Avula said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) K-12 school metrics, Henrico County is in the red zone, meaning at the highest risk of transmission in schools, as of Thursday.
At the end of her message, Cashwell asked the community to continue following basic health protocols like frequently washing your hands and wearing masks, and made sure to note that HCPS will stay up to date on the latest COVID data.
“An important element of our approach moving forward will be continued monitoring of health and safety conditions at each school and being responsive at the individual school level,” Cashwell said.
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