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Halifax County schools close doors to slow spread, teachers sent home

SoVaNow.com / November 19, 2020
The Halifax County School Board on Monday approved a recommendation for school employees to work from home after the Thanksgiving break, taking action the same day Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg closed off school facilities to students in response to rising coronavirus infections in Halifax County.

The school board met Monday night at the HCMS cafeteria and confronted the same community health concerns that have defined the trustees’ business agenda since spring. Monday night’s meeting also brought forth a contingent of high school student-athletes and coaches who urged trustees to go forward with the winter and fall sports seasons, already postponed by the public health crisis.

Lineburg announced Monday morning that school facilities will no longer be open to the small groups of students — high need special education learners, homeless students and English language learners — who had been allowed by trustees to return to the classroom. In taking the action. Lineburg cited the surge of covid cases in the county, bringing the 14-day spread rate to 521.7 persons per 100,000 in population.

CDC guidance puts Halifax County at the highest risk for a school outbreak, when school divisions are advised to consider remote learning as a primary method of instruction.

The closure of school facilities will run through Dec. 7, at which time administrators will reassess the situation.

“We knew this was going to be a bumpy ride and we need to operate as safely as possible,” said Lineburg at the Monday night meeting

Lineburg recommended, and trustees agreed, that staff members should work from home when feasible starting the week after Thanksgiving. The School Board voted unanimously to adjust the employee work calendar the week following Thanksgiving, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 based on an anticipated increase in the spread of the coronavirus.

The revised policy states that all employees who can provide instruction from their homes must do so. Only essential workers will be allowed on school campuses, including maintenance workers and teachers without internet access at home who need to be at school to conduct classes. Principals and Central Office administrators will notify those employees who are deemed essential of their status this week.

The policy also bars teachers from bringing their children to school, a change in normal procedure that the school board adopted earlier in the school year.

Lineburg, who has consistently said he will take action to curtail in-person school activities in response to worsening public health metrics, likened his action to close down facilities to canceling school because of bad weather.

“The executive decision made is similar to closing school for a snow day,” said Lineburg. “When we are in a red zone [for virus spread] schools must be closed for safety.”

School Board chairman Todd Moser said, “This is a difficult time for our nation and in Halifax County as the COVID-19 rate has gone through the roof the past couple of days. We ask the staff and citizens to bear with us and hope and pray things get better.”

Nurse manager Tina Slabach provided an update on coronavirus cases in the school system. As of Monday, Nov. 16, there are 21 employees and six students currently in isolation/ quarantine, six are awaiting test results for the virus, and 15 cases have been reported, total, tied to schools. Since the 2020-21 school year began, 63 people have been forced to go into quarantine.

“Tina [Slabach] and I talk on a daily basis, including the weekends. We’ve been watching the trend going up this past week,” said Lineburg. Of the safety measures in place at school campuses, Lineburg said, “the staff are using good social distancing measures and wearing face masks when using common areas. They are taking it serious because they want to see the students return to school.”

The prospects for returning students and staff to school will be addressed on Dec. 7, after reviewing the current COVID-19 caseload in the county. The nurse manager and superintendent will continue to follow the number of cases on the 14-day rolling average.

The building shutdown applies to after-school internet café and tutoring sessions that were recently started up at some school facilities. The only students who will be allowed to enter school buildings between Nov. 17 and Dec. 7 are individual special education students who are being tested as part of the eligibility process and have had appointments previously established.

Students taking courses at the Southern Virginia Higher Learning Center will continue as normal unless parents opt for a remote learning alternative.

In discussions during Monday night’s meeting, ED-1 trustee Kathy Fraley spoke of her visits to school facilities and the challenges she has seen teachers take on with students required to learn from home. Many teachers are having to repeatedly call about incomplete assignments and lack of attendance. They also are responsible for many custodial duties, Fraley said.

“Many teachers are doing tasks they have never been asked to do, like learning to operate Canvas [the online instructional platform], preparing paper packets, and loading school buses with meals,” said Fraley. She urged parents to show patience with teachers, and understand that failing students are not the teacher’s fault.

Kathryn Allen, the school board’s student representative and a HCHS senior, addressed the stresses and depression many of her fellow classmates are experiencing. Students are suffering from anxiety and related behaviors during this pandemic, she said, with some gaining weight and increasingly self-conscious about their appearance. Others may be embarrassed that their classmates can see the inside of their homes during online class sessions. And kids are spending more time socializing online, which can lead to cyberbullying, she said.

“Many parents are spending more time with their children and noticing signs and symptoms of depression,” said Allen. “Please do not assume sending your student back to school is the solution.

“Schools are a breeding ground of stressors, plus adding rampant virus as another. Please seek medical advice to help your student,” pleaded Allen.

The school board plans to hold a board retreat on Dec. 11. The next monthly meeting will be Monday, Dec. 14.



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Comments

Yet in Pittsylvania CO. they are going to school four days a week with more students?!?! SO halifax and Mecklenburg can't. People have no clue as to how they are being played.

Comments

Additionally organizations such as the Cleveland Clinic and Brown University, along with numerous other leading pediatricians and medical professionals have studies that show students are safest in schools where the transmit ion level is extremely low and that schools have proven NOT to be super spreader events. Unknowledgeable people voted into positions that they loft to a new level and have no background for making these types of decisions.

Comments

Yep schools are not spreading as fast. The main spreads are from - stores, eaterues, gyms, social gatherings, work places not abbiding by guidlines.

Comments

Forgot to add ^^^^religious services to the list of accelerated spread of covid.


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