Use a fully virtual model of instruction in Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro Virginia

Use a fully virtual model of instruction in Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro Virginia

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Kathryn Brown started this petition to Augusta, Staunton, and Waynesboro Public School Officials

Dear Augusta, Staunton, and Waynesboro Public School Officials,

We come to you as concerned teachers, school staff, parents, and community members. At this time, the COVID-19 virus is spreading through our communities, with no indication of slowing down. While we know that many schools have been able to maintain their safety mitigations and have thus far been able to avoid a large outbreak in the school, we also know that our students and staff are part of our communities where the virus is spreading rapidly. Our students and staff, who will be invited back into our school buildings on January 11th in Augusta and Waynesboro and on January 19th in Staunton, are continuously out in the community where the virus cases are rising every single day. Even when community members are cautious and avoid gatherings, they are still frequenting grocery stores, restaurants, medical offices, pharmacies, and other places that are necessities in our daily lives. Our schools are part of our community, and therefore, the decisions regarding when schools are safe to open, should come from monitoring the data from our community. We cannot treat them as separate entities, as they are intertwined and each affects the other. If we want to get this virus under control, we have to make decisions that will support slowing the spread in our communities. 

The Virginia Education Association has called on Governor Ralph Northam and each superintendent and school board in Virginia to move to a virtual model through at least mid-January, when case numbers can be reevaluated. Augusta County, Staunton, and Waynesboro are not in a bubble. We are facing the same virus threats that all Virginia schools are currently facing. VEA President Doctor James J. Fedderman stated, “Those governing our public schools owe it to the students, their families and communities, and our hard-working teachers and support professionals to minimize the exposures, not compound them.” The data in our communities need to be the deciding factor when it comes to schools reopening on a hybrid model. The safety of our students, staff, and families need to be the first priority, and we can only determine if it is safe by reviewing the indicators given to us by the CDC and VDH. It is imperative that we rely on the health experts and data to guide us through this unprecedented time. 

All three school districts decided to be fully virtual for a short time following winter break.  Students are scheduled to return from winter break on January 5, 2021.  Staunton City Schools plan to resume in-person classes on January 19, 2021.  Augusta County Schools and Waynesboro Public Schools plan to resume in-person classes on January 11, 2021.  The CDC indicators and thresholds for risk of introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in schools says that the highest risk of transmission in schools occurs when the number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days is greater than 200 and the percentage of RT-PCR tests that are positive during the last 14 days is greater than 10%.  As of December 23, 2020 according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) COVID-19 Pandemic Metrics Core Indicators the data for Staunton, Augusta and Waynesboro are as follows.

In Staunton the number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days is 1,296 and the percentage of RT-PCR tests that are positive within the last 14 days is 13.4%.  In Augusta County the number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days is 1,490 and the percentage of RT-PCR tests that are positive within the last 14 days is 21.3%.  In Waynesboro the number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days is 1,008 and the percentage of RT-PCR tests that are positive within the last 14 days is 15.4%.

We are asking that Staunton City Schools, Augusta County Schools, and Waynesboro Public Schools use the data that the CDC and VDH have identified as “core indicators” for schools to determine when it is safe to return to in-person learning.  We are asking that they wait until the number of new cases per 100,000 persons is less than 200 and the positivity rate is less than 10% to return to a hybrid model of instruction.  

On November 23, 2020 Dr. Laura Kornegay, the Health Director of the Central Shenandoah Health District said that her “best public health recommendation” was for schools to return to a fully virtual model and she cited the worsening situation in the community as a reason.  Since she gave that recommendation, and as Augusta and Waynesboro continued with a hybrid model, the situation in the community has continually worsened.  Many students do benefit from in-person instruction.  However, a fully virtual model can also be effective and is the safest at this time.  If we all do our part, including letting data guide when we return to in-person classes, we can get students back into the classroom more quickly and safely. 

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