School Board Decides to Push Back Return Date to March 8th



Dr. Beth Baptist, a chair on the school division’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee, walks meeting members and spectators through COVID-19 related statistics, as of January 7th, 2021.

Caldwell Boyles, Writer/ Sports Section Editor

The 2020-21 school year has been otherworldly for all schools across the country. That could mean wearing masks and social distancing while being in-person, having some sort of hybrid schedule, or being fully virtual, like Charlottesville City Schools has been for the entire school year up to this date. Local leaders have had to take on the responsibility of making tough decisions regarding when and how students and staff will return to school.

Our School Board has had the hard task of making and voting on the decisions that affect the entire community. Unfortunately, they have not been able to approve a plan, so far, for any students to return to any form of in-person learning. Since the beginning of the new school year, the school board has been revisiting COVID-19 statistics and their “Return to Learn” plan every 2-3 weeks during their meetings. 

On January 7th, the Charlottesville City School Board held their first meeting of the new year. The topic of discussion for this meeting was to converse and vote on Model A of the Return to Learn Plan. 

Essentially, this plan/model brings back all targeted students deemed the most at-risk. This would include students who need extra help the most and those who are not doing well with the current circumstance of virtual learning. This plan will not disrupt any current virtual learning schedule and will simply bring these groups of students into the school from 9:00AM to 11:00AM for this additional learning. When asked about how many students would be considered in this group at the high school, Dr. Irizarry, CHS principal, said that the number was right at 300. He also stated that these 300 students would be split up into 4 separate groups based on grade level (9th through 12th). Then, each of these 4 separate groups would have an assigned day of the week to come to the school for this additional instruction. 

The vote held during the meeting was for a set date of March 8th for students to return to in-person learning. There was a lot of confusion and disagreement among the school board members on where exactly they were going to go moving forward. After discussing and debating for multiple hours, the board chair, Ms. Linda Torres, called for a vote on the March 8th date, with a motion from Mr. Juandiego Wade and a second from Ms. Sherry Kraft. The vote tallied 4-3, with Mr. Wade’s motion getting the Yes. 

This plan was originally supposed to begin on February 4th, the first day of the new semester. But, with the COVID-19 related statistics brought up by Dr. Beth Baptist towards the beginning of the meeting, as well as just overall feelings towards returning, enough school board members disagreed with this date in order to have the plan rejected, which resulted in a new return date, that being March 8th. 

As of this January 7th meeting, the explanation for not returning until a later date is simple. The numbers are simply too high. Previously mentioned COVID-19 related statistics, brought up by Dr. Baptist, are all pointing in the wrong direction. For example, the number of cases and percent positivity in the last 14 days have both almost doubled since December 29th, 2020. All the trends are going where we don’t want them to go. This comes from the nationwide surge, as we have been experiencing the worst death and case rates since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Ms. Jennifer McKeever, former board chair, showed some disdain for this date, and any date in general. She believed that the board should stop setting dates for returning altogether, since they have led to nowhere every single previous time. Her reasoning and explanation mostly stems from the anxiety and stress that comes with setting dates and expectations for returning to school. She would much rather prefer to go with the flow of the pandemic and vaccinations, while reconvening on the issues each time they meet as a school board. She prefers this instead of setting dates in advance that, like every previous one, are likely to change. 

Vaccinations and COVID statistics are the two most important factors for the board when making a decision for students to return to in-person learning. Despite the numbers trending downward in almost every single category, vaccinations have seemed to actually start making an impact on our school district. I’ve heard from multiple teachers saying that they are going to get their first dose of the vaccination in late January, while others will have to wait until mid-late February. This is due to the fact that a very large portion of our teachers and staff signed up to receive the vaccine as soon as the letter was sent out. Some teachers got into the first round, while others have to wait for a later round. With the vaccine allowing more teachers to trust their health and safety, this is a key step in finally getting kids back to school. 

Though there was some turmoil and disagreement among the school board in their latest meeting, we know that they will continue to do their best to get kids back in school as quickly and safely as possible. 

The next board meeting will be on February 4th, and will be available for livestream on Charlottesville City Schools’ Facebook page.