About-Face by Virginia Beach School Chief

Aaron Spence

by Kerry Dougherty

Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach Public Schools, has seen the light.

Finally.

After months of kowtowing to the local teachers’ union — er education association — which is doing its best to keep classrooms closed, he belatedly joined the common sense get-the-kids-back-in-class crowd.

Better late than never.

Spence was persuaded, it seems, by medical experts who told him what many have known since last spring: That youngsters are not being infected by COVID-19 at significant rates, they tend to have very mild symptoms if they do test positive, and they’re terrible vectors of COVID-19. In other words, they don’t spread the virus.

He also noted that mental health-related visits were up sharply among Beach school children, with more than a 30% jump among high school students.

Almost as if isolation might lead to clinical depression. Who knew?

Oh, and the kids aren’t learning much in virtual settings. Of course, THAT sad verdict was in back in June. Pity it took seven months for educators to get the memo.

Spence announced his change of heart last night at a school board workshop. He followed up with a letter to the school community:

Data from the last four months, with schools open both in Virginia Beach but also across the state and nation, now shows us that what matters most is monitoring the impact of our health and safety protocols on transmission in our schools—and that schools can be open safely, even with varying degrees of community spread.

So the bottom line is this: Students and teachers belong together in the classrooms, and I believe we must safely put them there. And, the science shows it’s the right thing to do.

Recent studies have shown that COVID-19 transmission rates are driven by the community, not within schools and that in-school transmission is negligible when schools effectively implement health and safety mitigations.

Whether an infectious disease spreads in schools depends on two factors: how often children get infected with the coronavirus, and how easily they transmit the disease to others. If students were to be both very susceptible and highly infectious, schools would likely drive new outbreaks of COVID-19, as they do with influenza. But if children are poor catchers and slight spreaders, schools should simply mirror what’s happening in the wider community.

The school chief wants kids back in class beginning with pre-K through 6th graders on January 19th and with older students back in February. Children whose parents want them in remote learning will continue to sit at home.

It’ll be another loony hybrid arrangement in high schools, however. It appears that Mondays may be a teacher planning day and half the alphabet coming in on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other half coming in on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Two days of in-person learning for students every week. Sigh. Better than nothing, I suppose.

Beach schools tried this wacky schedule in the fall and it lasted two days before the experiment was called off.

Most private and parochial school students have been in class five days a week since August with very few problems. Best of all, they’re LEARNING!

Meanwhile, public school kids are depressed and falling behind academically.

This is a crisis.

The school board votes on Spence’s return-to-class proposal on January 12th. We’ll see just how effective he is as a leader when the votes are tallied.

No doubt the teachers’ association will pressure their poodles on the school board to keep schools closed.

Question is, will elected officials do what’s best for students or will they keep the militant teachers’ association happy?

This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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4 responses to “About-Face by Virginia Beach School Chief

  1. Hmm, I told you after the election things would change. Just had to wait for the GEORGIA RUNOFF to get there….

    In the RTD this morning: Richmond area health director Dr. Danny Avula:

    “In our community, COVID rates are higher than they’ve ever been,” Avula said, before adding: “We need to really ask the question: Are schools places where transmission occurs, and are schools places where people are going to be at high risk … of contracting COVID?

    “And what we’ve seen consistently now for almost a year around the country, around the world and even here in the state of Virginia is that schools, when they are executing an effective safety plan, are remarkably safe places for kids and for teachers.”

  2. Yes. To date most of our public heath officials have done precisely the wrong thing by closing down these public schools, and much of the harm to our kids, particularly those most disadvantaged, will be irreparable. And the end in many places is nowhere in sight.

  3. Does the parents and other students realize that there are multiple students that do not wear masks while they were at school they do not have a temperature check we do not know if they even have it meanwhile they could be spreading it throughout the schools and we are bringing it home to our family

  4. Interesting that the Superintendent has now pumped the brakes on his plan to reopen for the sake of the children, and in part based on his data that schools are not hotbeds of Covid action. I could not believe it when I opened my email last night, and Dr. Spence now says opening schools could overburden the health system! I can’t help but wonder where the concern is for the overburdening of our mental health providers the longer our children are secluded from the world.

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