TAZEWELL, Va. — This is the fifth week Tazewell County schools have been in session with students in the classrooms and no positive COVID-19 cases among students have been found.
School board members said during their meeting Monday the protocol in place is working, and many students who initially signed up for virtual learning may return to school for in-person instruction after the first six weeks.
School Board Chairman David Woodard said the success so far is “amazing.”
“We are in the fifth week … but no outbreaks,” he said, adding that some cases may still happen, but the results have been impressive. “So many school divisions looked at us as guinea pigs and saying you can’t do it.”
Woodard said it has been an all-around effort from everyone, including teachers, administrators, staff, parents and the community.
“We know we will have some at some point, but I think we’ve seen that we can have school and school will not cause outbreaks,” he said. “Our staff is working very hard to sanitize our schools and buses and keep our students and staff safe.”
“I want to commend the staff throughout the schools for the great job they have done,” said school board member Donna Whittington. “It’s unbelievable we are in week five and no major issues.”
Whittington said it continues to be a work in progress, but it’s the hard work of the staff that is the reason it is working.
“This is a testament to our employees, and the community cooperated,” board member Chris Moir said. “It’s just incredible how well everything has gone. Everyone is much appreciated.”
Board Vice Chair Irene Mullins said it’s all about the students.
“We have seen the school system work well together, very well in all aspects, from the central office to every department,” she said. “We greatly appreciate it for our children. They want to get back in school.”
Mullins thanked parents as well.
“The pandemic has changed a lot for all of us,” she said.”Our kids are getting an education, maybe not perfect, but we are moving forward each day.”
Dr. Chris Stacy, superintendent of schools, said the success has sparked an interest from many parents who opted to keep their kids at home and use virtual learning.
Stacy said the choice had to be made before school started and parents must stick with that choice for the first six weeks of school, which ends at the end of this month.
“We have a lot of people who have seen our success and may be thinking about sending them (students) back to school,” he said, adding that many are calling about it.
Stacy said a survey has already been sent out to parents about that option. About 1,700 students chose virtual learning.
“We need to get our numbers together,” he said, because it will change bus routes and how classrooms are set up. “We are trying to accumulate as much data as possible to plan.”
That planning covers all the bases, from sanitization to temperature checks to physical distancing and what to do is someone displays any symptoms or runs a fever.
It is especially important to determine bus routes because of a limited number of students who can ride each bus.
“I want to brag on every employee in the system,” he said. “Everybody has worked hard to follow our plan. It’s not perfect, but it’s worked pretty well … It’s a tip of the hat to everybody in the system, students and community members.”
Stacy also said there has been no “revolt” among students who returned to school and they followed protocol.
“Students have done it,” he said of their cooperation. “We know this virus is real. We are taking it seriously.”
Lisa Singleton, who is in charge of health services for the schools, said “everything has gone smoothly.”
A plan is in place for anyone who may exhibit a symptom or have a fever.
“They are sent home to see primary care providers (or the Tazewell County Health Department),” she said, and they will determine if a COVID test is needed. “We do not make that decision. We follow very strict guidelines and work closely with the health department and talk with them daily.”
If a quarantine is deemed necessary, a student or employee cannot return to the schools without a medical release.
Mullins said the school system has received $1.4 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding to pay for all of the supplies schools need to provide proper protocol and PPE.
She said $664,000 has already been spent on PPE, cleaning supplies, setting up computer “hot spots” and other precautions.
Stacy said with 15 buildings and about 6,000 people, the balance will go quickly.
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org