Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Matthew Haas, said the school division will switch all student instruction to virtual between next Monday, December 14, and Monday, January 11. This includes the division’s two-week winter break, which begins on Monday, December 21, and ends on Friday, January 1.
The superintendent said he is taking this precautionary action in the midst of recent reports of increases in COVID-19 illness around the country and in Virginia following the Thanksgiving holiday. Similar trends have followed other holidays this year that have brought groups of people together. Closing schools to in-person instruction one week before and one week after the upcoming holidays is an additional step in the division’s health strategies for keeping students and staff safe during the pandemic.
“The encouraging news is that our employees and students have been exceptionally committed to keeping our schools, offices and workplaces safe during the pandemic,” Haas said. “As the result of following our health mitigation strategies and practices, there is no evidence of any transmission of the COVID-19 virus on school property. We want to take every advance step possible to protect our students, staff and their families,” he added.
The school division currently is in Stage 3 of their Return to School plan, which provides for all Pre-K through third-grade students to attend school two days a week. Also participating in face-to-face instruction are certain special education students, English Learners, and students with instructional needs that are not being met through virtual instruction.
Recently, the division outlined what would require a move to Stage 1 of its plan, which is virtual instruction for all students. These developments include significant and sustained increases in the incidence of COVID-19 cases and positive test results cumulatively over a two-week timeframe.
Every month, the division reports to the School Board on both of these school safety measures that were developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assess the community spread of COVID-19. Although the current data does not necessitate a return to Stage 1, Haas said the division is taking a proactive step for the week before and the week after winter break in light of the increased likelihood of travel and larger public gatherings over the holidays.
School principals will be reaching out to families later this week with information on student schedules and assignments for next week and the week after winter break. The school division also will continue the use of school buses to distribute student breakfasts and lunches during the weeks before (December 14-18) and after winter break (January 1-4). There will be no meal service during winter break, Monday, December 21 – Friday, January 1.
One of the CDC’s school safety measures is a case incidence rate per 100,000 people for a given locality. Since Thanksgiving, the seven-day floating average of new cases in the county has increased from 14 to 25.4 percent, while the 14-day cumulative total cases per 100,000 people has risen from 170 to 261. This number is now in the highest of five categories of risk as established by the CDC, although it has not yet stayed at this cumulative level over 14 days, which is part of the CDC guidance.
The second measure tracks the percent of positive tests for COVID-19, which was 1.8 percent right after Thanksgiving, but now is at 3.6 percent. This figure had been in the CDC’s lowest risk category, but has moved up one risk category, although it also has not been at the higher level cumulatively over 14 days.
Currently, there are 15 students or staff members in the division who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are in isolation and another 34 who are in quarantine because they have been identified as a close contact of someone with the illness.
“A move to Stage 1 for the holiday period increases our ability to return to Stage 3 more fully staffed and with all eligible students back in school beginning January 11,” Haas said.
Also, this week, the division will be presenting to the School Board its initial planning for an eventual move to Stage 4 later in the year based upon its health plan, the recommendations of the CDC and local health department, and the trend in COVID-19 cases. The presentation slides are available at: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1b3Y44vaRL9VwforO0Vw0cO8AIL7KG-N1xW2yVm_15Zs/edit?usp=sharing
Beginning at 6:30 this Thursday evening, the School Board meeting will be live-streamed at: http://streaming.k12albemarle.org/ACPS/player.htm?xml/schoolboard.xml
The superintendent will make his recommendation to the Board on January 14 on what the division’s instructional plan will be for the third quarter marking period, which begins on February 1. The Board is expected to vote on that recommendation on January 21.
“My recommendation next month, like my actions today, will be based upon what the health data is telling us about the spread of COVID-19 and its risks; the counsel from our public health experts; the academic, social and emotional learning needs of our students; and protecting the health and well-being of our students, staff and community,” Haas said.
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Strategic Communications Officer