VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence has released his recommendation for the upcoming school year.
“Our first obligation is to make sure that our students and our staff are safe,” Spence told News 3. “We convened a panel of folks of physicians from a broad spectrum of specialties and public health experts and brought them together and asked them to understand when we can open school up.”
The plan involves starting the school year virtually for all students. According to Spence, the decision to go to face-to-face instruction will be based on regional health metrics.
“We're looking at just positivity cases, percentages, and we're looking at number of cases per 100-thousand per week,” he said.
Families would also have the choice between face-to-face instruction when it’s safe to do so, or virtual for at least the first semester.
“Because we have to schedule those programs, hire the teachers for those programs, staff them, we are saying to our parents if you choose an all virtual option only, we want you to have that option. We understand the concerns that are out there. and the disagreement over this,” Spence said. “We would then be able to, at the end of the first semester, evaluate where are we in health data, do any of our parents want to come back [and] can we now schedule them and new staffing around them. We can't do that during the course of the semester because that's going to move teachers in and out of their classes, for example.”
Spence added the virtual learning program will be much more like the regular school experience for students.
“We'll have a daily schedule,” Spence said. “There will be daily face-to-face instruction and check-ins with teachers, assignments required and graded and attendance will be taken and monitored.”
Matt Rossettini is a parent and former Virginia Beach teacher. He believes starting the school year virtually is appropriate.
“It's just good to see that we have a plan,” Rossettini said. “As a parent, I'm not comfortable with what I see out here, generally saying that it would be appropriate to go back to school.”
The same goes for Staci Martin, who's leaning towards the option of virtual for the first semester if she decides to keep her student within the school district.
“I appreciate that it's going to be virtual, because that's safest right now,” Martin said. “It's going to reduce our risk, especially because my mom lives with us. My husband and I have some preexisting health conditions. It's the right choice for us going forward. I think it's the right choice for the community, if we want to stop transmission of this virus.”
Both are part of the group VBCPS Back to School Safely. The group, prior to Spence's announcement, created a list of concerns and goals addressing returning to school. Topics included protective measures for students and staff and paid leave for all COVID-related absences.
“I think our plan is largely in line to those goals,” Spence said.
Rossettini told News 3 he and others hope to see open communication continue.
“As a civics teacher, I knew it was my civic responsibility to stand up and provide my inputs that we can add to the conversation,” he said.
The plan will be formally presented to the school board next Tuesday, July 28.