I’m writing to let you know that due to rising concerns related to the spread of COVID-19 in our region, HCPS will delay the expansion of in-person learning for students, which had previously been planned to begin in phases starting on Nov. 30. Let me explain:
Back in October, when we adopted a timeline for increasing in-person learning for students, I shared that I was committed to regularly monitoring the Virginia Department of Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention core metrics for schools in order to be responsive to changing health conditions. Today, the HCPS Health Committee held a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the latest health reports, and I have reviewed the most recent information as well.
Like many of you, the health committee and I are concerned about the spike in numbers related to COVID-19 in this region.
When our approach was adopted back in October (in order to give families ample time to plan), the core metrics for the local area and region inspired more confidence in expanding in-person learning than they do today. Since then, two of the three core metrics being monitored have increased significantly. The number of new cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period has risen to the highest risk level, and the percentage of positive tests in our region has seen a sharp increase. The third metric, related to the ability of HCPS to implement mitigation strategies, remains at the lowest risk level.
While my confidence in our school division’s ability to adhere to and implement our health and safety plans remains strong, the sharp increases in two of the three core metrics is of concern to me and to our Health Committee. In order to allow our families time to prepare and make necessary arrangements, and with our School Board’s support, I am officially adjusting our timeline:
- All limited in-person learning scheduled during the weeks of Nov. 30-Dec. 4 and Jan. 4-8 will be canceled. This accounts for the weeks directly following Thanksgiving and Winter Break. All learning will occur virtually during these two weeks. The physical buildings (schools and offices) will be closed to the public during these times.
- During the weeks of Dec. 7-11 and Dec. 14-18, limited in-person learning opportunities will resume as they normally would.
- The return to in-person learning for students in grades pre-K through 2 who chose this option will be delayed until Jan. 11, 2021 (the return date had been November 30.) Virtual learning with currently assigned teacher(s) and current daily schedule will continue until the Jan. 11 date.
- The return to in-person learning for students in grades 3-5 who chose this option will be delayed until Jan. 14, 2021 (the return date had been Dec. 7.) Virtual learning with currently assigned teacher(s) and current daily schedule will continue until the Jan. 14 date. (Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, is a virtual learning day for all students.)
- The February (second semester) return dates for middle and high school in-person learning remain as planned.
- Student intentions that were given earlier this month will remain in effect. Our schools will remain flexible, as space permits, when there are extenuating circumstances.
- Child care services through HCPS partner organizations expect to remain open until at least the beginning of Winter Break.
- As for winter sports and other extracurriculars, student-athletes can expect to hear more about changing timelines from their schools and coaches.
I regret the inconvenience and challenge this change in plans may pose to our families. Given the information we have today about the spread of COVID-19 in central Virginia, I believe that this adjustment is the most prudent course to protect the health and safety of our staff, students and community.
Reducing community spread is a significant factor in enabling schools to open safely, and so as we approach the upcoming holiday season and the Winter Break, I urge all of us to model the expectations we have as a community. Let’s wear masks, practice physical distancing and respiratory etiquette, wash hands frequently, stay home when sick, and adhere to health and safety guidelines for social gatherings.
In closing, though our plans are delayed, I want to be clear that they do remain intact. The efforts our families have made to get us to this point have not been wasted. The HCPS team remains committed to the critical need of bringing more of our students back for expanded in-person learning. We will get there. I appreciate our employees, students and families for helping us achieve this goal.
Thank you for your understanding and patience as we navigate this together.
Amy E. Cashwell, Ed. D.