The Manassas City School Board once again declined to set any dates for a return to in-person learning for most students Tuesday night, citing concerns over increasing COVID-19 cases in the region and across the country.
At its last meeting in November, division staff presented a detailed plan for a phased return of most kindergarten and 12th grade students without any potential dates attached. On Tuesday night, staff provided the school board two plans with dates attached, but the board chose to wait and reassess the situation at their next meeting in January. Instead, the board allowed staff to slightly roll back in-person learning for the 72 special education students and English-language learners who are currently getting limited classroom instruction, granting a two-week pause following winter break for those students.
Having been directed by the board to present possible dates for a return, Manassas City school staff provided two timelines for the start of in-person learning for students not already going to classrooms. Melissa Saunders, the school division’s director of student achievement, said the board would only recommend the more delayed timeline, which would bring pre-kindergartners to first-grade students back starting Jan. 4. But no board member had requested that a vote for return to in-person learning be put on the meeting’s action agenda. Instead it was on the discussion agenda, and Chair Sanford Williams said the board might take up a timeline for return at its January meeting.
“There will be no action taken tonight to act on these dates, especially given the precipitous nature of the calamity that’s befallen us with the virus, the fact that cases are going up and worse nationwide and in the area than they were previously,” Williams said.
In her presentation Tuesday night, Saunders started by detailing the most recent numbers regarding COVID-19 spread within the city and region.
With a 14-day average of 432.3 new cases per 100,000 population, she reported, Manassas City is in the Virginia Department of Health’s “highest-risk category” when it comes to school reopenings. According to the VDH, the same goes for the city’s 14-day test positivity rate at 15.8%, though Northern Virginia as a region is in the state’s lowest-risk category in terms of hospital beds occupied.
But any potential dates for the in-person return timeline will have to be presented and potentially voted on when the school board has its next meeting on Jan. 12. There will be two members when that happens, as both Scott Albrecht and Vice Chair Kristen Keifer both declined to seek re-election this year. They will be replaced by Christina Brooks and Carl Hollingsworth Jr.
Board member Tim Demeria summed up the reluctance to vote on potential return dates, saying that the board really wants to get students back in the classroom.
“We have all been trying to figure out a way to open our buildings to our staff and our students. It’s the goal of this board to open this up and get our kids back in the building,” Demeria said. “... I can’t figure it out. I have no inclination right now of voting to put our children and staff back in these buildings the way these numbers are reading and the way the experts are predicting them to go.”