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Chesterfield schools to reverse course on school reopening plan, sending students home until Jan. 29 because of COVID-19
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Chesterfield schools to reverse course on school reopening plan, sending students home until Jan. 29 because of COVID-19

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Northam talks about rising COVID-19 numbers and restrictions

Chesterfield County Public Schools will pull students from classrooms beginning Monday and return to remote learning until at least Jan. 29.

Wednesday’s decision comes as the county’s seven-day average of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people reached 26.5. Earlier this month, Chesterfield schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty said in an email to staff that once the seven-day average hit a threshold of 25, the division would return to full-time virtual learning.

The only students allowed back in the classroom will be select K-12 special education pupils, who number about 17,000.

The School Board will hold a special meeting Monday where a public health update will be provided, according to the school system news release.

With students home already for Thanksgiving break, families can expect to receive additional information about the decision in the coming days. For virtual school start times, elementary schools will have three: 7:45 a.m., 8:30 a.m., or 9:25 a.m. Middle schools, besides Tomahawk Creek, will begin at 7:35 a.m. Tomahawk Creek will start at 8:30 a.m., the same time as all high schools.

“The increase in local COVID-19 cases has been swift,” the school system wrote in a news release. Barely a week ago on Nov. 17, Chesterfield’s seven-day average was 20.2 cases.

Chesterfield has had one of the most aggressive return-to-school plans in the region, despite many teachers repeatedly voicing concerns to remain virtual. This week, several teachers sent emails to the School Board asking for an emergency meeting ahead of Thanksgiving break to make the call and not send students back.

Last week, Henrico County Public Schools reversed its course on expanding in-person learning, delaying the Nov. 30 rollout to January. Hanover County brought students back full time Sept. 8, while Richmond Public Schools will remain virtual at least through the beginning of 2021.

Chesterfield schools spokesman Tim Bullis said that no decision has been made about how the change will affect sports but that "training is continuing in small groups." Some winter sports teams can begin practice Dec. 7 and start playing games on Dec. 21 under the Virginia High School League’s revised schedule.

Chesterfield school staff who support students in Cohort 1, select special education students, “will work from their school building,” Bullis wrote in an email to staff that was obtained by The Times-Dispatch.

It remains unclear if all other teachers will be allowed to teach from their respective homes, for in his email, Bullis wrote, “teachers may teach virtually from their classrooms to take advantage of the instructional materials and technology available in their school.”

“Other school-based staff members should coordinate work locations with their principals,” Bullis added.

Nearly a dozen Chesterfield teachers who spoke to The Times-Dispatch on background for fear of retribution shared similar accounts of being denied their request to teach virtually under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Three weeks shy of Thanksgiving, approximately 34,000 students in sixth through 12th grades had the opportunity to return to school. This final push joined the nearly 28,600 students who had returned to their respective schools in clusters.

The decision to send back all middle and high schoolers sent waves through the Chesterfield school community because the health committee charged with deciding when groups of students should return went against its own metrics for keeping people safe.

The committee’s three coronavirus metrics were the seven-day average of cases, case positivity rate and school readiness.

There have been 8,942 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Chesterfield, with 483 hospitalizations and 128 deaths attributed to the virus, according to VDH.

jnocera@timesdispatch.com

Staff writer Tim Pearrell contributed to this report.

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