More area schools reversing course on in-person learning as COVID continues to spread

Henry County Public schools fully virtual through mid-January

HENRY COUNTY, VA. – A growing number of schools in our area are reversing course after bringing students back to the classroom within just the last few weeks.

And in most cases, it’s because of COVID-19 spread outside the classroom.

Henry County Schools announced Thursday they’re going back online until mid-January. Monica Hatchett of Henry County Public Schools knows online learning isn’t ideal, but as the virus continues to spread school is becoming a logistical nightmare.

“With large numbers of staff members across the division needing to be out for extended periods of time for quarantine and smaller numbers of substitutes available, providing high-quality, in-person instruction was becoming increasingly more difficult," Hatchett said.

Franklin County High School, a middle school and its tech school announced a recent move back to virtual learning through Thanksgiving break.

In Giles County, the high school is going virtual for the next week and a half, and students will soon return to Clifton Middle School in Alleghany County after a shut down there.

These closures are all on top of numerous individual classroom closures across our region due to positive cases. As health leaders continue to warn of increased risk as winter sets in, school leaders are keeping a close eye on the numbers, but it’s unclear what the tipping point may be.

10 News asked Roanoke City School leaders, who just brought elementary students back to the classroom.

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of staff and students. District leaders are in regular contact with the director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts. Based on data and the recommendation of health officials, Roanoke City Public Schools is prepared to pivot as needed. Since day one, the school system has been methodical about the re-opening of schools.

Using a Ten Point- Safety and Academic Plan for Reopening Schools, we implemented a phased-in approach. This week, elementary students returned to the classroom for those opting for in-person instruction. We applaud staff and students for taking the necessary precautions. To stop the spread, it is crucial for everyone to wear face coverings and maintain social distance.”

Justin McLeod, Roanoke City Schools (via email)

And in Roanoke County there also is no threshold for reversion.

"At this point, we are still moving forward with our current plans. There is no set threshold number that would mean a reversion to full online. We are looking at a number of factors and, with continuous consultation and guidance from local public health experts, will monitor the current COVID environment and take action as is recommended by health officials. So far, we have not had any evidence of spread (transmission) in our schools. With the exception of two non-traditional classrooms, we have not had to close any classrooms and no schools have closed.

We have had some exposures as defined by contract tracing (we are under the new CDC definitions). We have recently made some adjustments to instruction due to the new CDC definition of exposure – small group work has been greatly scaled back. We continue to strongly encourage staff and students to maintain six-foot physical distancing (we call it Check your 6) as well as wear masks – not just at school, but anytime you’re outside your home."

Chuck Lionberger, Roanoke County Public Schools (via email)

Back in Henry County, Hatchett said it’s possible they could come back in person earlier than expected if cases go down, but at the same time, they’re prepared to go longer as well.

“Certainly we know there will be gatherings over the holidays that will lead to increased cases so we’re just trying to be as responsible as we can and ensure that we will be doing our part," Hatchett said.

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