Augusta County Education Association raises issues with plan for return to school

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The Augusta County Education Association is not on board with the beginning of face-to-face instruction in the county next week.

The group laid out its case in a letter to the Augusta County School Board and Superintendent Eric Bond on Monday.

Last week, the school board approved a plan to implement a staggered instructional start – with blended in-person instruction, featuring two days of on-campus instruction and three days of virtual learning, to begin on Aug. 18, and instruction for those who opted for 100 percent distance learning to begin on Sept. 8.

In the letter, the ACEA, citing an “alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia,” made the case that schools should not open “until the division can provide policies, procedures, and supplies to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

Quibble on the “alarming increase” line: new reported COVID-19 cases in Virginia are trending down. According to today’s COVID-19 data update from the Virginia Department of Health, the current three-day average of new reported cases in the Commonwealth is 852, down 29.6 percent from the three-day average of 1,210 new reported cases for the period Aug. 5-7.

The mini-spike in the Commonwealth in recent weeks had almost entirely been confined to the Hampton Roads region, but the situation has dramatically improved there over the past several days. From a peak of 719 new reported COVID-19 cases in Hampton Roads on July 25, the region has averaged 241 new reported cases a day over the past three days.

And the local region – Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro – have largely been spared really from the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in March.

According to today’s VDH COVID-19 data update, the region has registered a cumulative 613 reported COVID-19 cases.

The rate per 100,000 population – 503.3 – compares well to the state average of 1,192.1 cases per 100,000 population.

And there is no indication of any recent trends that should be concerning locally. A total of 60 new cases in the region of 121,791 residents have been reported in the first 11 days of August, according to VDH data.

The data not revealing any authentic reason for the utilization of the word “alarming” notwithstanding, ACEA members are wary of returning to the classroom.

The group polled its members, and according to the letter, 82 percent report experiencing moderate or high anxiety about the coming school year, 70 percent report feeling unsafe or uncertain about returning to school, and 65 percent do not support or have mixed feelings about the current reopening plan.

The letter laid out a list of needs to be met in order to provide a safe working and learning environment for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

From the letter

  1. A mandatory mask policy must be implemented. Wearing a mask at all times in ACPS buildings is necessary to prevent confusion as to when individuals must wear or not wear a mask (with exceptions for individuals with legitimate medical conditions or during meal times).
  2. The school start date needs to be pushed back to September 8th so that all students can begin the school year at the same time, or 100 percent of all students receive virtual instruction for the first nine weeks.
  3. ACPS must develop a clear written plan to address the procedures for when someone in the school community tests positive for COVID-19 and when an individual school or the entire district will be closed.
  4. Adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies need to be provided to staff and be replenished to protect ourselves, students, and anyone in the school building. Current plans for cleaning are unrealistic and the lack of PPE will make the implementation less effective.
  5. Staff members who are immunocompromised or have immunocompromised family members should be offered a telework option without penalty.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press news