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Rockingham County Public Schools Superintendent Oskar Scheikl plans to bring high school students back into the classroom beginning Feb. 1.

RCPS has been phasing in students at the elementary level since September, and in October brought back older elementary school students and middle school students on an A/B schedule.

Only prekindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students have been in the classroom since Sept. 10 for four days a week.

Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases in Rockingham County and across the state that occurred after Thanksgiving, the plan to bring high school students back on an A/B schedule remains in place.

However, Scheikl said he is expecting updated guidance from the Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia Department of Health and Gov. Ralph Northam in the coming weeks, which could alter these plans.

The Home Learning Academy option will still be available to students, and the School Board is considering carrying that option over to the 2021-22 school year.

As of Tuesday, Rockingham County has reported 4,682 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard.

School nurses have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Teachers are in phase 1b and will begin receiving the vaccine soon. A survey will go out to teachers this week asking whether they plan to receive the vaccine.

At every School Board meeting, Scheikl gives members and the public an update on COVID, the county and the schools.

There have been 155 total cases of COVID-19 among students and staff since they returned for the 2020-21 school year on Sept. 10. Like the rest of the state and country, Rockingham County saw a significant increase in cases after Thanksgiving, but that hasn’t translated significantly to the schools.

VDH and DOE guidelines say in-person learning can be done safely if strict mitigation strategies are followed. These include mask-wearing for everyone at all times, 6 feet distancing and ventilation. Many of the classrooms in the county are now hospital grade when it comes to air flow and turnover, thanks to ventilation systems purchased with CARES Act money, Scheikl said.

A big question posed by the health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is are schools driving the spread? The answer: It’s hard to tell, but certainly not as much as community gatherings or health care settings, Scheikl said. It’s believed that strict mitigation decreased the spread.

“You all have received emails ‘You’re killing kids by not having them in the schools,’ and also ‘You’re killing people by sending them to school,’” Scheikl said at Monday’s School Board meeting.

At the end of the day, the school division has to weigh the costs of everything it does.

“There is no option that has zero cost,” Scheikl said.

Harrisonburg City Public Schools plans to increase in-person attendance on an A/B schedule to 30% capacity beginning next semester. While the goal is to get to 50% this school year, there is no timeline for that and it will only occur when the VDH moves Harrisonburg off of “red” on its risk scale, which looks at cases, hospitalizations and hospital bed availability, according to Superintendent Michael Richards.

Contact Megan Williams at 574-6272 or mwilliams@dnronline.com. Follow Megan on Twitter @DNR_Learn

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