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How COVID-19 is impacting staffing in schools across Hampton Roads

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Posted at 6:26 PM, Jan 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 17:25:26-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - In his final week in office, Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in relation to COVID-19 in Virginia Monday, meant to help ease hospitals and staffing as cases continue to rise.

And it's not just hospitals that are experiencing an issue with staffing - schools across the country, including here in Hampton Roads, are dealing with a teacher shortage.

In the governor's press conference Monday, he was asked if we could see schools going virtual statewide.

“The answer to that is no. We know that our students learn best in the classroom - that’s where they are safest. We know the law the Code of Virginia says that we are to follow the CDC guidelines, which is what we’ve been doing, so that means children in our schools will wear masks. We want our children to be in school, but we also want them to be there safely and responsibly," Northam said.

We reached out to local school districts to see whether the virus is impacting staffing in their schools, as well as to inquire if they have any plans to shift to online learning. Here's what they told us.

Chesapeake Public Schools

On Friday, it was announced six schools in the district would switch to virtual learning for at least five days due to rising COVID-19 cases. School leaders also decided to reinstate mandatory masking in schools.

Norfolk Public Schools

A spokesperson for Norfolk Public Schools told News 3 they have seen an impact from COVID and are using substitutes. The school district recently updated its COVID-19 quarantine information based on revised guidance from the CDC and the VDH.

You can find all of NPS' COVID information at npsk12.com, including a core indicator tracker on the front page and our various policies (click on "Coronavirus Update").

Newport News Public Schools

Newport News Public Schools says it's "experiencing some staff absences due to COVID quarantines and isolation." The district is using substitutes, and teachers and teacher assistants are covering classes as needed. Additionally, members of the central office team are also serving as substitutes.

A spokesperson said NNPS' leadership team will continue to monitor COVID data.

Suffolk Public Schools

Suffolk Public Schools has had to make adjustments due to the impact of COVID-19 on its staff. The school district is preparing a contingency plan in the event that it may need to move some of its schools to virtual learning.

School officials take school positivity rates, the number of staff and students in quarantine and the total number of staff members needed for normal operations all into consideration.

Portsmouth Public Schools

Officials with Portsmouth Public Schools say they're seeing higher than normal absences from staff members at this time, which means the division is relying on substitutes, instructional assistants and other staff members at the school to provide instruction during the school day.

They say at this time, there are no current plans for returning to virtual learning, but they are prepared to return to a full virtual learning environment if directed by the state or health department.

Hampton City Schools

Hampton City Schools also says it has had a higher number of teacher absences since the return from winter break. Substitutes are assigned to jobs when absences are reported.

To be proactive, this past November, each school in the district has been assigned a minimum of one additional daily substitute. School officials say this daily substitute reports to their assigned school each day to assist in covering employee absences that have not been filled.

Since September, teachers who teach an extra class and/or cover a class during their planning bell receive extra earnings, and part-time instructional assistants may work a full day if needed to assist in coverage for absences and are compensated for the extra hours worked.

The Virginia Department of Health, in its most recent communication to school divisions from the Hampton/Peninsula Health Districts, advised that all schools in Virginia should be offering in-person instruction options at this point in time and temporary school closures should only be necessary if there is an increased impact to a school(s) if increased cases or outbreaks were to occur.

HCS says it is continuing to monitor its schools and work closely with the state and local health departments. It has created contingency plans for virtual learning in the case of inclement weather, which could be used if there is a need for longer-term virtual learning for one or more schools due to COVID.

Virginia Beach City Public Schools

In an email sent to families last week, VBCPS laid out some of its latest COVID protocols.

We have had many questions about why we haven’t considered a temporary switch to virtual learning. As a reminder, state law no longer allows us to move to virtual instruction as a school division. We are limited to making those decisions on a school-by-school, classroom-by-classroom basis. That said, our focus continues to be on keeping schools open and keeping our students and staff as safe as possible while they are in our buildings.
Virginia Beach City Public Schools

The e-mail also included updated protocols regarding quarantine and isolation based on new CDC guidance:

Starting Monday, Jan. 10, elementary and middle school students who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been advised to quarantine will now be able to return to school after five days of isolation or quarantine if they are asymptomatic or have been fever-free for more than 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing drugs and can effectively wear a mask. Those who have a mask waiver (and therefore cannot effectively wear a mask) will continue to isolate or quarantine for 10 days.

As a reminder, high school students who are asymptomatic are not required to quarantine from classes no matter their vaccination status. High school students who have tested positive for COVID-19 will now be able to return to school after five days of isolation as long as they are asymptomatic or have been fever-free for more than 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing drugs and are able to wear a mask effectively. Students participating in athletics or conditioning may not participate in these activities during the 10 days following the onset of symptoms (isolation period) or 10 days following their last close contact exposure (if they are unvaccinated or have not had COVID-19 in the last 90 days) due to their inability to wear a mask effectively during play.

Staff who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been advised to quarantine will also be able to return to work after five days of quarantine or isolation as long as they are asymptomatic or have been fever-free for more than 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing drugs and are able to wear a mask effectively. As a reminder, fully-vaccinated employees, as well as employees who have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days and are asymptomatic after a COVID-19 exposure, are already exempt from quarantine. Employees must still contact their supervisor if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic.
Virginia Beach City Public Schools

On January 12, VBCPS said they do not intend to close any classes or schools. However, should the resources needed to cover staffing shortages be exhausted, school officials said there is a chance that a classroom, grade level or an entire school might have to return to virtual learning for a few days, allowing for a period of quarantine to pass and for COVID-19 cases to diminish.

The school district gave families a tentative timeline if the closure of a classroom, grade level or a school be necessary:

  • If a staffing-related closure is possible, you will receive a message from your child’s principal at least three (3) days before a classroom, grade level or school may close.
  • If a staffing-related closure is definite, you will receive another message from your child’s principal two (2) days before closure of the classroom, grade level or school.
  • If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a class or school, your child's principal will notify you as soon as possible and the class or school would close the next day.

These messages will be specific to your child’s class, grade level or school and will explain how schedules will work, how virtual learning will happen and when meals can be picked up during the closure.

In all cases, closures will last a minimum of three days.

York County School Division

Last week, the York County School Division said it is considering the return of virtual learning as COVID-19 cases surge.

On Thursday, the school district schools released a COVID-19 update stating the division remains confident in their mitigation strategies in place at their schools. School officials say as expected, community transmission rates are affecting both staff and student attendance rates. They say these attendance rates are not sustainable.

During Tuesday’s school closures, staff worked to prepare for potential shifts to virtual learning. They have not made the switch just yet; however, if they continue to experience the same level or higher absentee rates, the division says they will be forced to adjust course.

The division has not made a final decision yet to shift any classes or schools to virtual, but they say families should prepare just in case.

Click here for full Safely at School coverage.