The coronavirus pandemic has pretty much disrupted every facet of normalcy.
Take for instance families with kids in school. They are now tasked with keeping students on track while they learn from home.
But some parents want the school divisions to reopen full-time and have in-person classes.
They say that’ll give parents and their kids some much needed relief.
Joseph Nickerson created an online petition for the Williamsburg-James City County School Board to give an option of having in-person classes for students in grades K-12 starting Jan. 11.
“The devastating impact ‘virtual learning’ has had on some students and parents alike can no longer be ignored and it is time for the WJCC School Board to address these concerns,” according to the petition. “Many schools in Virginia and around the Country have remained open while following CDC guidelines and it is time for WJCC schools to follow suit.”
“Please use the holiday break to allow parents to transfer their children to the WJCC Virtual Academy if they do not feel safe returning their children to in-person learning for the remainder of the school year.”
Other points of the petition suggest WJCC Public Schools use the holiday break to “finalize CDC recommended safety measures” so students can return to school in-person and avoid closing the school down.
“Closing schools should not be an option,” according to the petition.
On Dec. 7, most WJCC students, with the exception of the 275 special education and English learners, went back to remote learning because of the rising number of coronavirus cases.
RELATED STORY: WJCC Schools go virtual because of COVID spread
As of Thursday afternoon, 317 people have signed the petition.
Nickerson was not immediately available for comment.
Eileen Cox, WJCC Schools’ spokeswoman, is aware of the petition –having seen it on Facebook ––but is not sure if the school board has seen the petition yet. She did however, note the school board is “always open” and “appreciates feedback” from the community.
“I do think it’s worth noting we want our students back full time as well but we want to make sure we are able to do that in a way that is safe,” Cox said. “So just to be clear: It’s not that we don’t want our students back but we just want to be able to do that in the safest way possible.”
While Cox understands people will have different opinions and the school division is not “always going to make everyone happy,” she wants families to understand they are trying to balance “real data,” current trends and what experts predict in the future, such as the holiday spike in cases.
“We would just like parents and the community to know what we are doing the best we can,” she added.
WJCC Schools is looking at “health metrics” such as the Virginia Department of Health’s website, specifically focusing on numbers in the Williamsburg and James City County as well as the other surrounding localities.
Cox said the division is looking at the Peninsula and Eastern region because teachers and staff members may live outside of the Historic Triangle, and students may play in private sports leagues, participate in dance classes or other activities where they interact with people from other localities.
“The Peninsula and Eastern region is at the highest risk for transmission level right now and we need to keep that in mind,” she added.
So what about the petition’s suggestion to have families uncomfortable with in-person learning enroll in the virtual learning academy?
That could be difficult.
“It’s just not a simple, we have 200 kids, parents want them to go back on site,” said Sean Walker, assistant superintendent for school leadership at elementary schools. “We can’t just turn that around within a couple of days.”
The issue is staffing and the overall impact on students’ education, which could mean losing their teacher, current class and changes in their schedule. In addition, some course might not be offered through the virtual learning academy, Cox added.
Walker said “just under 3,000 students” are currently enrolled in the virtual learning academy and families had until Nov. 30 to opt out of the program and join the school division’s current learning path.
While the division is still processing the changes, so far anywhere from 350-400 students are opting out of the program: “Just under 200″ elementary students and 175 middle and high school students, Walker added.
Students are expected to return to blended learning in grades PreK through fifth on Jan. 11 while students in grades six through 12 will continue learning remotely. WJCC still plans to have students learning remotely after the winter break holiday on Jan. 4-8.
“Our hope is to have more students coming in by grade level,” Cox said. “But we’re going to keep watching the data but we don’t want to bring anymore students in at once.
According to the WJCC’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which was last updated Tuesday, there have been 27 positive coronavirus cases among staff and five among students since July 1.
The latest numbers for the Peninsula Health District, including the Historic Triangle area are below, courtesy of the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard:
Editor’s Note: This story was reported before Gov. Ralph Northam announced the modified stay-at-home order, gathering restrictions and the updated mask mandate.
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