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Students will return to classrooms Jan. 19

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This article has been corrected to explain the plan to return students to the classrooms. 

The Fauquier County School Board voted 4 to 1 Monday night to resume the hybrid model of learning. Students whose families have chosen hybrid will return to classrooms two days a week (either Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays), and have three days of asynchronistic learning. Students whose families have chosen virtual learning will learn synchronistically through a  classroom video camera two days a week (half on Mondays and Tuesdays and half on Thursdays and Fridays) and through asynchronistic learning three days a week. 

About 66% of families have chosen hybrid learning for this semester, which is 3% higher than when school started with hybrid learning in the fall.

Board chairman Donna Grove described the decision as "the perfect compromise that makes no one happy," not the parents who want their kids in classrooms five days a week and not the parents who want school to remain virtual until the end of the year.

Duke Bland (Marshall District) was the only board member to object to the switch from all virtual learning. He said that the safety of students and staff was his first priority and metrics for community spread of the coronavirus in the county have never been higher. He stood with the recommendations of epidemiologists he said, and lobbied for schools to stay closed for at least another two weeks.

Bland also pointed out that the school division was forced to go virtual just before Christmas because of a workforce shortage caused by the pandemic. “I believe virtual learning will come back when workforce problems come back.”

But his fellow board members were adamant that children’s mental health was suffering and families needed the support of in-school learning.

The county’s high school athletes have already returned to the courts, mats and pools for a shortened season. The winter sports season resumed Jan. 6, with COVID mitigations in place.

Vaccines

Although the metrics for community spread of COViD-19 are indeed worse than in December, Superintendent of Schools David Jeck offered hope in the fight against the disease: Included in Phase 1b of the Virginia Department of Health’s priorities for vaccinations, teachers and school staff members are eligible to receive vaccines at a central location in the health district beginning Monday, Jan. 18. The vaccinations will be administered through the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District of the VDH.

When the school division sent out a survey to gauge interest in vaccinations, Jeck said that 1,750 of 1,950 employees had returned the survey, “which is extraordinary.”

Eighty percent of staffers said they want the vaccine, said Jeck. The other 20% were waiting to see if the Pfizer vaccine was going to be offered.  Currently, school employees are scheduled to receive the Moderna vaccine, which requires two doses, 28 days apart.

Jeck explained that any school employee who would have face-to-face contact with students would be eligible, including custodians and nutrition workers. “Almost everyone,” he said.

New COVID dashboard debuts soon

Tara Helkowski, public information officer for the school division, said that the schools will begin using a new COVID dashboard soon. The new dashboard -- found on the school division website at fcps1.org -- will offer more information than the original version, including which cases are currently active; student and staff cases will be listed separately.

Active cases will be placed on the dashboard the day they are reported and remain there for 10 days, Helkowski said. After that, the cases are considered "recovered," and are moved to the cumulative portion of the dashboard.

Currently, the dashboard is not set up to provide information about numbers of staff members or students who are quarantining because of the coronavirus, but Helkowski said she would look into that.

She reminded parents that they should contact school nurses to report positive cases.

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