Several teachers spoke to the Pittsylvania County School Board at Tuesday’s meeting to express their concerns about in-person learning in the division.
Several pointed to the high number of cases in the area, with the percent positivity now at 21.4 percent, when 10 percent seemed to be the threshold in the fall. They spoke of their frustrations and exhaustion working through the changes in their profession, while also facing uncertainty and fear due to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and unclear procedures.
“Every day you make me be in the presence of a multitude of people who are not engaging in mitigation strategies, you exponentially increase my chances of getting COVID,” teacher Tara Mills said.
Adrian Nester, a 19-year veteran teacher in the division, pointed to a lack of transparency and failed communication within the division regarding COVID-19 cases and procedures. She said the rate of transmission in the area is “ignored,” with no dashboard to hold the division accountable for cases recorded in staff and students.
During a time when hospitals and testing facilities are overwhelmed, she called for the division to go back to school fully remote at least until all teachers receive both doses of the vaccine.
“If this board chooses to go back to a fully remote status for six weeks or until all teachers are vaccinated, you will not find me celebrating,” Nester said. “My job as a teacher and a parent will get even harder, but in this case, the right thing to do is not necessarily the easy thing.”
Following teachers’ remarks, school board member Calvin Doss asked Superintendent Dr. Mark Jones if it were true that there wasn’t a number threshold, per Virginia Department of Health (VDH) standards, that would close schools.
Jones said that was true, as the VDH recommends that there are no thresholds as long as mitigation strategies were being followed. However, if there were a staffing issue related to COVID-19 illnesses or exposures, that could cause a school or part of a school to close.
Based on conversations with local VDH director Dr. Scott Spillmann, Jones said his stance has not changed that it is okay to be in school if following all mitigation strategies.
However, he said that athletics will continue to condition socially distanced with masks, as Spillmann did not recommend game play.
Jones also asked, and was granted permission by the board, to close school buildings and conduct remote learning days when division staff can, eventually, receive COVID-19 vaccines. In a survey of staff, more than 1,000 people indicated that they would be interested in receiving the vaccine.
While the area is still in phase 1A of healthcare workers for vaccine distribution, Jones expects Phase 1B will be entered within the next few weeks. Teachers are in line in this phase, after law enforcement and first responders.
It would take the division three days, with vaccinating four to six people per hour. To accommodate everyone in a central location, Jones requested that schools be remote for those three days and then again a few weeks later for the distribution of the second dose of the vaccine.