The Prince William County School Board on Tuesday night voted to meet again Feb. 17 about bringing older students back into classrooms, with a goal of phasing children in as soon as the end of February.

During the nearly six hour special meeting, board members nixed Superintendent Steve Walts' revised model presented last week to delay returning grades fourth and up to classrooms until after spring break. Preschool through third-grade students have already returned to classes two days a week, if parents chose. Families can still opt for all-virtual learning.

School Board Chairman Babur Lateef made the motion to meet again next month, giving school officials time to see where COVID-19 vaccines and metrics stand after learning that vaccinations would be available for school staff starting the end of this month.

"I believe the vaccine changes everything," Lateef said. "I'm hopeful all teachers will be done by March 1. Whether we get there or not we can reassess on February 17."

School board member Loree Williams, who represents the Woodbridge district, moved to substitute that motion, instead proposing a pause in any further return-to-classroom proposals until the Feb. 17 meeting.

Williams' motion failed 5-3. The board then passed Lateef's proposal, with Williams and members Adele Jackson and Lilly Jessie voting against.

Board members all agreed that Walts proposal to bring older students back after spring break, beginning April 27, seemed too long a time, particularly with vaccines so close.

Walts' after-spring-break plan gave no hope that older students would return at all this school year, said school board member Jennifer Wall, who represents the Gainesville district. 

"And we need hope at this point," she said.

COVID-19 vaccinations will begin Jan. 30 for school employees within the Prince William Health District, health director Alison Ansher said Tuesday.

Speaking just hours before the school board meeting, Ansher told the Prince William Board of County Supervisors that teachers would be vaccinated through Inova Health System rather than the public health district. Registration for vaccination appointments will open Jan. 28, she said. 

During the school board meeting, Lateef asked Walts and his leadership team about finding ways to push for getting vaccines to staff faster.

Walts said the school division has no control over when and how the vaccine will be distributed, but has offered the Kelly Leadership Center, several school stadiums and dozens of certified nurses to help vaccinate not just school employees, but local residents, too.

Representatives from Inova and Prince William County Public Schools could not be immediately reached for additional information on what the vaccination registration and delivery process would look like. It was also unclear whether teachers would be given the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

Under Lateef's resolution, the in-person rollout would be delayed for one month from Walts' fall proposal to have students from fourth through 12th grades return to school two days a week beginning Jan. 26 and Feb. 3.

The school board and supervisors meetings came hours after news of the COVID-19 death of Dinora Mejia, a popular custodian at Potomac View Elementary in Woodbridge. School officials said it's not believed Mejia, a county schools employee for more than 20 years, contracted the virus at school. She had been on medical leave since Dec. 9.

After an emotional Walts announced Mejia's death, Lateef called for a moment of silence in her honor.

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FixPrinceWilliam

PWCS SB Summary:

Dr. Walts: We are unable to mitigate against this excessive spread, especially with the air particles. Let's push-back school opening. It's almost February. What's another month or two? This year's a mess anyway.

Lateef: We need to open schools, no matter what. I've looked at the research from months and months ago, and it says that it's impossible to get COVID in a school. Impossible! I'm a doctor, and I clearly have no idea how VDH works or how the vaccines are distributed, but I don't care. The spirit of what I'm doing is that we need to open. I am a doctor and I did a surgery today!

Williams-You're an idiot!

Wilk-I've been for this since the beginning. Yeah, I flip-flopped a little there, but in the end, this is the Titanic. We don't have enough lifeboats, and we know it, and we don't care. Concurrent was also my idea. It's really neat. You teach 2 kids in person and 40 kids at home. Oh, and I taught school a decade ago.

Jessie-There's a pandemic. And I just don't want to force people into this. Consistency is key in education, and staying virtual is consistent. And did I mention it's safe?

Wall-We need to go ahead with the plan. The plan is for my sweet boys. My sweet, sweet boys. I have two boys and they are so sweet. The plan is best for the boys. My sweet, sweet boys. It's what Biden and Harris want. But I'm a Republican.

Zargapoor-I will do whatever Lateef says because I don't want him to yell at me in the private meeting. BTW, I'm a teacher in Fairfax, and I advocate for virtual learning...but only in Fairfax.

Raulston--[sleeping][sleeping]

Jackson--Alright, alright. Enough's enough. The jig is up. Let's just stay virtual and look forward to next school year.

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