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Henrico Approves Phased In-Person Return to Classrooms

school facade
Glen Allen High School in Henrico County. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The Henrico School Board voted Thursday to begin a full return to in-person instruction in November, after holding most classes virtually for the first nine weeks of the school year. 

Previously, the district allowed limited in-person instruction for students with special needs, English language learners and other small groups. The accepted proposal will bring students back starting Nov. 30, with the final cohort returning in early February.

Young students in pre-kindergarten through second grade will return first, on Nov. 30, followed by students in third through fifth grade on Dec. 7. Middle and high school students will return in early February.

The only board member to vote no was Kristi Kinsella of Brookland.

The committee says virtual learning should remain a choice for families who want it. 

“You are responsible for the choices you make outside of the school building, and the choices you make at home, to ensure that they are safe not only for your child, and your family, but for his or her classmates, and his or her teacher,” said board member Marcie Shea.

Leading up to the vote, several Henrico teachers and employees who will be required to work in person asked the board to reject the district’s plan. 

According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, Henrico County shows low test positivity rates, but rising case numbers, putting the district in a "higher risk" category for  transmission in schools. The district proposes lowering those risks using the following mitigation strategies:

  • 6 feet of physical distancing
  • Required face coverings
  • Desk plexi-glass guards
  • No sharing of school supplies
  • Classroom supply of hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies
  • Permitting virtual instruction for portions of the in-person day
  • Flexibility for school leaders to schedule/assign virtual and in-person classes based on staff and student needs
  • Library, Art, Music, and PE will livestream lessons daily to in-person and virtual students
  • Limiting movement through the building
  • Schedule adjustments for outside recess 
  • No in-person field trips, assemblies or large group gatherings
  • Limiting visits to appointment only with health screening
  • Daily, random temperature checks of staff and students

 

The first week after winter break will be fully virtual for all students. The school board proposed this buffer period as a precaution before students return to class from holiday gatherings. 

Elementary school students will have their meals delivered to the classroom. Middle and high school students would pick up their meals from the cafeteria and will eat lunch in pods throughout the school building, or in their classroom. For virtual students, meal delivery and curbside pick-up will continue, though may be limited due to staff restrictions. 

There will be a total of 25 students per school bus, with one student per seat to create three feet of physical distancing. Superintendent Amy Cashwell said this will make for longer transportation times, as buses may require multiple trips to bring students to and from school.

As part of its in-person instruction plan, Henrico schools will also amend their Code of Student Conduct, making refusal to adhere to certain safety guidelines punishable by removal from in-person learning. 

“If a student refuses to wear a mask, it’s defiance. Obviously, we’re gonna work with students, but it can get to the point where it’s defiance, and it becomes more of a discipline issue,” HCPS Chief of Staff Beth Teigen said.

The school district is also proposing quarterly stipends of $150 dollars per course for teachers who are required to do blended teaching -- both in-person and virtual, and for elementary school teachers without duty-free lunch. This will be funded through the federal CARES Act.

Before the vote, Cashwell called for unity among the Henrico community.

“As a school community we have a chance to be stronger together,” Cashewell said. “To let differences of opinion and points of view cause division and rifts within this school community, that may not be easily repaired or amended, I believe would be a tragic addition to what’s already a crisis.”

To address questions and concerns, HCPS will host two town hall events on Oct. 27 -- one for staff at 4 p.m., and a second for families at 6:30 p.m.. The district will also add a frequently asked questions section to its website. 

The school district has seen over 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at its school buildings since August. All but one have been employees. A student tested positive this month at an emergency childcare site in Henrico High School.