Danville Public Schools moved its middle and high school classes to virtual on Friday with about 1,100 out of the district’s total 6,900 students quarantined for COVID-19. The school is using the Labor Day weekend to do a deep-clean. Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brenda Muse said most of those cases were among middle and high school students.
“Those levels have been increasing, and so in consultation with our State Superintendent Dr. Lane and with our local health department we asked for some advice on what they felt we needed to do. And our health department said a deep cleaning would greatly assist at the secondary level,” Muse said.
Nearby Franklin County also had middle and high-school students attend classes virtually on Friday, with a plan to return in-person Tuesday.
“After considering the current situation and consulting with [the Virginia Department of Health], the decision was made to go to virtual learning on Friday, Sept. 3 at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, Gereau Center, and Franklin County High School in order to take measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19,” the West Piedmont Health District explained on Thursday.
A new law requires districts to provide full-time, in-person learning in most situations, although school districts have the option to go virtual for a limited number of days with the guidance of local health officials. Some districts have had to go virtual due to staff shortages. Still, officials have to carefully balance the priority of having students in-person with COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
“We’re going to continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis because we’re hoping we don’t have to have any additional virtual days,” Muse said.
“We do realize that in-person is the best form of instruction for students. But, you know, with the numbers of students in quarantine, we need to get it under better control. And we’re hoping with this virtual day today that the community will realize, you know, more students need to wear their masks, they need to stay home if they’re not feeling well. I mean it’s a community disease, and the community needs to do a little more to help the school system out,” she said.
The Patrick County Public School district, also in the West Piedmont Health District, is also experiencing rising cases. The Enterprise reports that school board members have mixed reactions to COVID-19 cases in the district.
“A lot of this is not coming from the schools, a lot of this may be coming from outside of school,” Board Chair Brandon Simmons said, suggesting that as the weather cools, people won’t be socializing as much outside of school.
Vice-chair Walter Scott made similar comments, according to The Enterprise, and said that cases seemed to be coming from already-vaccinated adults. He thinks everyone in the district will eventually get COVID-19.
“Kind of like the chickenpox. When everybody gets the chickenpox it goes away,” he said.
On the other side of Virginia in Fairfax County, one association of parents is critical of “baseless quarantines” that are keeping individual students out of classrooms. The Fairfax County Parents Association (FCPA) has criticized inefficent “pausing” strategies while individual cases are investigated, and said the district should prioritize returning asymptomatic and vaccinated students to class while investigation goes forward.
On Friday, Special Services Department Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd announced a new strategy to more quickly return fully-vaccinated students to class.
“We have heard from many of you about your concerns regarding the amount of time fully vaccinated students are being paused from in-person instruction when identified as a potential close contact to a COVID-19 positive case,” she wrote. “FCPS collaborated with the Fairfax County Health Department to adjust this process and speed up the return to the classroom for fully vaccinated, asymptomatic students. We all share the goal of ensuring our students are in the classroom as much as possible, while also keeping our schools safe and healthy for everyone – staff, students, and visitors.”
The new process allows parents of students who would otherwise be quarantined to submit a form proving the students’ vaccination status and a survey to confirm that the student is asymptomatic, which the health department can verify, allowing the student to return to class immediately.
FCPA credited advocacy by parents and School Board Member Megan McLaughlin.
“This is a good step that hopefully benefits all in the paused queue,” the association tweeted, but warned that more work to streamline processes is needed. “It’s vital that bureaucracy not be the reason kids don’t get school.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “High School Boy and Girl at Computer” by Alliance for Excellent Education. CC BY-NC 2.0.