No ‘Hiccups’ For County Schools But Staffing Sometimes Thin

County students’ return to schools in hybrid mode is going smoothly, Superintendent Phillip Thompson reported at the regular School Board meeting Feb. 9.

“If you can have a time with no hiccups during COVID,” Thompson said. “We’ve had a generally no-hiccup time since Jan. 19.”

RCPS reverted to a 100 percent virtual learning model at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Department of Health before Thanksgiving. After the holidays, students went back to a hybrid schedule Jan. 19, with about half of in-person students going back two days a week and learning remotely the other three days. A significant population of students remain on the fully virtual option, with about 935 kids, or 36 percent of division students, learning virtually five days per week.

“We knew that there would be cases of COVID. We knew there would be teachers and staff that had to quarantine as a result of others, whether it be family members, or whomever, who had COVID,” Thompson said. “It has been manageable, but it has been stressful at times depending upon the school.”

If just one or two teachers are absent, Thompson said, “We can usually make that work; we can cover it, whether it’s internally with substitutes or somebody else.

“There has been a time or two this year where it’s gotten pretty thin with respect to substitutes and their availability,” he continued, adding that gaps have been filled by central office staff and teachers from other classrooms at times.

“It’s gotten pretty difficult at times to be able to pull that off,” he said, “but I’m pretty proud of our folks to be able to say that we haven’t had to shut down a school as a result of staffing issues as of yet. I hope that remains the case.”

Quarantining is probably the biggest issue RCPS faces, Thompson told the Board. Though a teacher or student may not test positive for COVID themselves, close contacts with positive cases, through mostly family interaction, have led to several incidents of quarantine.

“So it makes it difficult sometimes to be able to have a full, robust school when our teachers and staff members, not just teachers, it’s teacher’s assistants, bus drivers, principals sometimes, who are having to quarantine for various reasons,” Thompson said.

Transportation staff in particular are stretched thin at this time.

“We’re at a difficult time with filling all of our bus routes right now, not so much of COVID, because of other everyday, daily things that are happening, with respect to regular, normal doctor’s appointments,” Thompson said. “Whether it’s a parent or a child at home, they have to stay at home and watch them, un-COVID-related. I talked with Mr. [Randy] Walters this afternoon and he’s got some concern. He’s on a bus every day; other central office folks are on buses every day and other retired folks who have their CDL license are on buses every day, trying to make it work and fill in the gaps.”

Though staffing has been an issue, RCPS has not had to run double routes or close routes as a result.

Thompson also described the recent COVID-19 vaccination clinic for the school community as a positive, wonderful day for all who participated. He added there was an overall feeling of hope at the clinic and “a lot of smiles we haven’t seen in a long time.”

“So, am I pleased? Sure,” Thompson said. “Could it be better? Absolutely. But generally speaking, I think we’ve had a good experience with respect to the overall experience of bringing kids back into our buildings. And hopefully, in the near future, we’ll be able to bring more back.”

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