VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Virginia Beach City Public Schools is dealing with district-wide staffing shortages, keeping student testing scores up and, of course, an increase in COVID-19 cases.
While there are a lot of challenges, Superintendent Aaron Spence said the biggest challenge is keeping schools open and monitoring what's happening inside them.
About a week into the academic year, Virginia Beach is seeing COVID cases rise across dozens of schools. Dr. Spence confirmed to News 3 on Wednesday afternoon that the district has reported 121 cases since September 1.
"We know and we've said this before - and we talked about this last year - that COVID is in our community, therefore it will be in our schools," Dr. Spence said. "I also think it's very important that there's context there, because we say, you know, 120 cases or 150 cases or whatever the number ends up being, you have to remember, we have 65,000 students back in our building and over 7,000 staff members in our building."
Included in the 65,000 students are 9-year-old Connor and 7-year-old Kaylee. While their mother, Tonya Rivers, is happy they're in the classroom with masks, she has concerns.
"So, my concern is, as the cases are rising, you know, was it kind of was expected that they would when school starts? It's going to be more stressed for the teachers, for the parents, for the students," she said. "I feel like the contact tracing is definitely inadequate for this high school system that we have. I feel like they're already overwhelmed. I don't believe, you know, that they can keep up with a number of cases."
She is a teacher herself outside of the district and said mask wearing and proper ventilation are the keys to stopping the spread.
News 3 asked Dr. Spence what practices are in place if a student does need to quarantine.
He said, "So, for students who individually have to quarantine in their home, we're providing asynchronous instruction. So, we're providing online instruction, but not with the teacher full time because the teacher is teaching. In particular, at the secondary level, right now we have what's called FEV Tutor, which is an online tutoring program that's available to them."
If a teacher is exposed to the virus and has to quarantine but is asymptomatic and is able to work, that teacher can teach from home, just as they did during the during the closures.
Annie Palumbo is a Virginia Beach mom and has a son in the 12th grade. She disagrees with the district's COVID protocols.
"I knew it would be like this. In fact, we're all waiting for them to shut it down because we just know the minute that there are a few new cases they're going to shut it down. Honestly, I would embrace that because at least our kids aren't in masks," she said. "Parents need to stand up and fight. Parents need to know that they're responsible for their kids and if they can, pull them out."
Based off of VDH data, the district believes about 50% of students are vaccinated. In order to better gauge how many teachers are vaccinated, the district will be sending out a voluntary, anonymous survey for teachers to fill out.
At this time, VBCPS does not require vaccines for teachers, but Dr. Spence said, "What I can say is that, on a call with the state superintendent yesterday, he did share that the Biden administration's vaccine plan that applies right now to federal workers and is being pushed through the Department of Labor and Industry for businesses over 100 employees, apparently, may apply to K-12 employees. In states where the state's operate under a statewide OSHA plan, Virginia is one of those states. So, it does appear that that may end up coming down from the federal government. We're still trying to understand that and we haven't gotten any guidance or regulations on that, so I'm not making any assumptions. But I can say that there is some indication that that may come down from the federal government."