COVID-19 has played havoc with the lives of citizens of every country. Wearing masks and maintaining social distance is the new norm. While this might work well in several settings, education is not one of them. Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence of Virginia Beach City Public Schools has recommended that schools start the upcoming fall year in a virtual environment to minimize the risks of children getting afflicted with the deadly Coronavirus.
While it sounds like the logical thing to do, not everybody is on board with this plan. Three board members disagree with this proposal. School Board members Victoria Manning and her colleague Caroline Weems has an “alternative plan” for reopening schools as against the approach suggested by Superintendent Spence. Laura Hughes has supported Victoria and Caroline in their push for in-person learning.
Manning feels that the choice of the mode of teaching should be left to the parents as a questionnaire sent to them indicates that the parents want the children to get back to schools. A majority of 62% of parents have opted for in-person learning while among the teachers, an overwhelming 75% either want in-person learning or have no specific preferences. Manning is confident that it is possible to work out strategies like social distancing to follow Covid-19 safety norms in schools strictly.
However, there is a flip side to this perspective. Kelly Walker, who is the President of the Virginia Beach Education Association that has 1,400 teachers as members in the city, differs from Manning on this issue. She says that about a third of her members do not want to go back to face-to-face learning until a safe environment is created.
The recommendations announced by Superintendent Aaron Spence were framed after carefully considering the prevailing situation. There has been a sharp spike in the number of new cases of COVID-19 and positive test reports leading to hospitalization. What is critical is that this surge appears to be led by the younger age groups.
Superintendent Spence said that the school system would follow a color-coded evaluation of safe return to in-person education.
Red is when the test positivity rate is above 10% for 14 days, yellow when it is between 5% to 10% for 14 days and green when below 5% for 14 days. Virtual education will be offered for red and yellow zones and in-person when the situation turns green.