Because of Cohort 1’s successful re-entry into the school building, Cohort 2 returned to in-person learning as planned on October 12, 2020. Cohort 1 consists of select students with Level 2 disabilities determined by IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), and Cohort 2 contains grade levels K-3. Students are not allowed in the building on Wednesdays, and kindergarten through 3rd grade students only attend school two days a week (Mondays & Tuesdays, alpha A-K; Thursdays & Fridays, alpha L-Z). Alberta Smith Elementary School’s office manager, Diane Mattes expresses, “it’s great to see those smiling masked faces and the excitement of being back.”
Chrissy Nicklow, a Special Educational Instructional Assistant at Winterpock Elementary School, remarks, “I think school is safe. However, I understand that some parents would prefer not to send their kids back.” Because of this common concern, CCPS published Project Restart, a detailed guide that gives parents more information about returning to school safely. This plan places a strong emphasis on disinfecting, by providing hand sanitizing stations throughout the buildings and thoroughly cleaning the bathrooms four times a day.
Each of CCPS’s thirty-eight elementary schools required masks for all students and staff members, unless they have an Individualized Healthcare Plan form completed by a doctor. Elementary schools have taken the lead, quarantining library books for 72 hours before giving them to the next student and having students eat lunch in the classrooms. Additionally, in some cases, schools have taped off six-foot zones for children. Outside of the classroom, buses now run with only one student per seat. “We often say ‘it takes a village,’ and we are making it the safest village possible,” shares Diane Mattes.
Staff members have strictly followed the precautionary measures laid out by CCPS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These measures include: wearing masks, face shields, and gloves when coming in contact with students and other staff members. By showing up to school, teachers and students have verified they have answered the daily self-assessment questions, which ask about the individual’s temperature, close contacts, and symptoms. Gordon Elementary School’s second grade teacher, Ms. Heather Searcey, feels optimistic about the future, stating, “second graders can do virtually anything!”
At the School Board meeting on October 13, CCPS decided to continue the reopening of schools by having Cohort 3 return to school on October 26. Cohort 3 consists of fourth-grade, fifth-grade, and students enrolled at the Chesterfield Career and Technical Center. This leaves Cohort 4 (grades 6-12) as the final group to go return, tentatively scheduled for November 9th. The School Board makes decisions about returning based on the health committee’s reports, which covers COVID-19 positivity rates, hospitalizations, and other health metrics in the Chesterfield Health District. Even though the county continues to follow the outline of the plan laid out in September, they keep pursuing the necessary changes, as difficulties arise in the virtual or physical classroom.