Virginia Beach school board provides update on COVID-19 strategy, but masks were front and center

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — At a Virginia Beach School Board business session on Tuesday, administration leaders gave a presentation with the latest COVID-19 data.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), community transmission in the city is high, with a positivity rate of 36.1% over the past seven days.

Board members plan to discuss an alternate scheduling model to overcome teacher shortages and save costs associated with staffing issues.

Administrators say there are a total of 116 vacancies.

“Don’t you think that will make more people leave? said Trenace Riggs, board member. “I mean, let’s face it. You put more on the teachers now by doing this. »

Headteachers responded by saying “finding candidates is getting harder and harder”.

Ultimately, the school board voted unanimously to change high school schedules to a hybrid model, which remains in-person and allows students to keep their blocks of study.

Masks weren’t even on the agenda on Tuesday, but the topic was front and center for parents and students.

“I think we should wear a mask to keep everyone safe, including students, staff and family members who might actually be at risk,” said high school sophomore Allie Anthony. Kellam.

Rowynn Riley, a ninth grader, also attends Kellam High School.

“Today was my first day back without having to wear a mask since seventh grade, and it was definitely a better experience for me and my friends,” Riley said. “I just want to be able to breathe freely and see the faces of friends at school.”

Some of the younger students stood tall, speaking out on the polarizing issue.

“Hopefully my nose acne will go away now that I can be mask-free,” said North Landing Elementary fourth-grade student Natalie Rash. “Today was the best day of the last two years at school. Thank you.”

Jules Owen, 8, said she was smiling from ear to ear after being able to go to primary school for the first time without a mask on Tuesday.

The second-grade student approached her school board a few hours later to let them know how she felt.

“I can finally see their smile; I can finally breathe without wearing a face mask,” Owen said. “After two years, I was happy.”

At a special school board meeting last Thursday, members voted to allow parents to remove their child from the mask requirement while following guidance from the CDC and the Virginia Beach Department of Health.

The move comes after Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Virginia) executive order allowing parents to choose.

“There has been no change in the science showing that masking is one of the most effective COVID mitigation strategies in the classroom, so educators can only assume this decision was made for reasons political rather than security reasons,” said VBEA President Kathleen Slinde.

Related: Students caught in the middle of a debate over polarizing masks

Although VDH data shows community transmission in the city is high, school district chief of staff Dr. Donald Robertson said COVID cases across the school system are low.

He said of the 64,000 students, more than 800 tested positive last week.

Dr. Robertson recommends seeing if removing masks works before revising the policy, but some parents and teachers aren’t willing to take the risk.

“I don’t feel sure that my working conditions and my daughter’s learning conditions will be safe for the foreseeable future,” said a VBCPS. teacher and parent who called the meeting.

The administration is in the process of purchasing KN95 masks for students and staff. They said the masks could arrive within the next two weeks.

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