County schools postpone return to hybrid instruction

By Brandon Martin

Henry County Public Schools announced on social media that the division halted plans to return to hybrid instruction on Jan. 19, due to ongoing staffing concerns related to positive coronavirus cases in the area.

During the division’s most recent school board meeting, Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer said a survey would be administered to staff members to gauge the ability to safely return.

“I hope that we can keep our schools open the entire time; however, I do realize that we may have to close some classrooms in our schools,” she said at the Jan 7 meeting. “We will follow the same communication plan” to notify parents “of any closures we have to make.”

In the social media post, the division said it would not return to hybrid instruction “until COVID cases in our community and among our students and staff have improved significantly.”

There are 23 new cases listed under the division’s COVID-19 dashboard, from Dec. 18, 2020 until Jan. 8, 2021. According to the data, the highest number of cases during the period occurred at Meadow View Elementary School, with six cases. George Washington Carver Elementary showed four new cases.

The initial recommendation to return to full virtual instruction came after a month of intermittent school shutdowns combined with shortfalls in personnel.

“When we opened in-person learning, we knew we were going to have to shut some classrooms in schools when we had positive cases of COVID-19 and we know that every time there is a positive case, many people are taken out because of contact tracing and they are put on quarantine,” Strayer said in November.

She added that the constant shutdowns have been the division’s biggest impediment to providing in-person instruction.

“The widespread community transmission of the virus is causing us to lack our staff members,” she said, adding that 62 staff members were under quarantine at the time. “The number of school community members in quarantine continues to rise as our COVID-19 cases in the community continue to rise and they have not leveled off as we anticipated. Additionally, we find it increasingly difficult to continue our high-quality instruction with that number of staff members that need to be put on quarantine.”

Compared to the new cases between Dec. 18 and Jan. 8, the division also quarantined a total of 60 staff members. Since Oct. 12, 2020, the division has had 1,148 quarantines between staff and students. There are 1,191 employees in the division.

In addition to instruction, all winter activities and competitions also are postponed “until hybrid instruction resumes.”

According to core indicators by the Virginia Department of Health, 21.5 percent of RT-PCR tests in Henry County were positive over the last 14 days. Schools were listed as posing the highest risk for transmission.

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