SUFFOLK, Va. - Three elementary schools and one middle in the Suffolk Public Schools district will temporarily shift to online learning due to concerns over rising COVID-19 cases.
In a letter sent to SPS families Wednesday, the district announced students at Kilby Shores, Mack Benn Jr. and Southwestern Elementary Schools will learn from home during the week of January 17-21.
King's Forks Middle will also learn from home during the week of January 17-21.
SPS said there are more than 1,000 students and "an overwhelming number of staff" in quarantine, which has caused them to "be concerned about the operational effectiveness of our schools."
School officials said in-person learning is anticipated to resume on Monday, January 24.
Carly Bosco, who has two elementary school girls in the Suffolk school system, spoke out at Thursday night’s meeting.
“This dearth of information available to the public is resulting in concern, in some cases panic and defiance to parents,” Bosco said.
The school district’s dashboard showed Kilby Shores reported 14 cases last week; Mack Benn Jr. reportedly had six cases; and Southwestern reported 15 COVID cases last week.
“Parents across the district are worried and scrambling and trying to figure out, well does it affect me? Doesn’t it affect me? Do I need to figure out childcare?” said Bosco.
Bosco said transparency and better reporting on the COVID data in the district is something that needs improvement.
“Disclose how many classes are in temporary virtual status,” she said. “Disclose the percentages of staff and students sick and in quarantine; disclose the number of classes meeting in person but with a virtual teacher.”
The SPS dashboard showed the total number of positive cases in the district at 65 on Wednesday. Several hours later, that number jumping to 278.
Superintendent John Gordon said the dashboard is only updated weekly for accuracy and can’t be done daily.
“That can’t be done in the City of Suffolk,” Gordon said. “Part of the reason is the Virginia Department of Health releases information to us every Monday. Once that information is released to us, that is when we put it on our dashboard.”
Other parents say they’re ready if their children’s schools switch to virtual.
“Our schools are taking the steps necessary to protect our children,” said Annie Scott whose grandkids go to Booker T. Washington. “If we have to result to virtual, we’ve already prepared with the desks at the house.”
Natalie Brown said she’s prepared to have her sixth-grade daughter Natalia learn remotely.
“We’ve been there before. We’ve been there before,” said Brown. “This is something that we’ve dealt with before and so you just have to do what you have to do. You have to keep people safe. It’s better to be safe than sorry more than anything so you just have to kind of adapt and go with it because we’re feeling it. We’re all going through it.”
Some parents questioned the timing of the temporary school closures. They asked why the district wouldn’t start virtual learning on Thursday, the day after they were notified, instead of the following week. The superintendent said he wanted to give parents time to make arrangements for childcare.
On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in relation to COVID-19 in Virginia, meant to help ease hospitals and staffing as cases continue to rise.
As schools across the country, including here in Hampton Roads, are dealing with a teacher shortage amid the ongoing pandemic, we've reached out to local school districts to see whether the virus is impacting staffing in their schools, as well as to inquire if they had any plans to shift to online learning. You can see each district's plan here.