Upon the return from winter break, the Pittsylvania Education Association reaffirmed its long-held position that in-person learning is not safe at the present time due to climbing numbers of COVID-19 cases in Pittsylvania County Schools.
Following the announcements of new cases already in January, the number of alerts sent out by the school division has become exhausting, Pittsylvania Education Association President Jessica Jones said.
“It has been a tumultuous week back,” she said.
Currently, there are 26 active cases in the county’s schools — 15 students and 11 employees.
According to Virginia Department of Health data, 93 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the county alone on Tuesday — the second-highest total of any day of the pandemic. Pittsylvania County also has a 7-day average of new cases of 67, the highest it has ever been in the county. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show a 21.4% positivity rate of tests in the last two weeks.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the only school sites without an active case were Chatham Elementary, Mount Airy Elementary, Twin Springs Elementary, Tunstall Middle, Victory Academy, the Regional Alternative/STEM Academy, the Education Cultural Center and the district’s transportation department. All other sites have at least one active case.
Superintendent Mark Jones said Tuesday he has already sent out multiple messages in the past month to families with reminders to wear a mask, socially distance and wash their hands.
“That’s so important for us to stay in school,” he said.
Since the school division reopened for in-person instruction on Sept. 28, it has seen 107 positive cases of COVID-19.
Mark Jones said the school division has found little evidence of spread within the schools, however.
“Based on what we’re seeing, the mitigation strategies that we have in place, we’re not seeing a spread in the schools,” he said. “This is community spread outside of the schools.”
Jessica Jones is growing weary of the many alerts to notify school communities of positive cases, though. She would prefer for the school division to create an online dashboard that would reflect updated COVID-19 numbers throughout the district.
Danville Public Schools, Henry County Public Schools, Averett University and Danville Community College all have some sort of dashboard for that purpose. Jessica Jones would like to see sometime similar for the sake of transparency.
“It seems common across the commonwealth,” she said. “When [school board chair] Sam Burton continues to say people shouldn’t be spreading gossip on Facebook, this is a true, hard, brass tacks way of providing accurate information in real time. Where is it? Why don’t we have it?”
When asked of the possibility of implementing a public dashboard, Mark Jones spoke highly of the notification system already in place. He deemed that system appropriate.
If a school sees a new case, every parent there receives a letter about it, and any individual who needs to quarantine is contacted by a principal, school nurse, central office staff member or health department official.
“We do keep parents informed of cases in schools that may impact their children,” Mark Jones said. “That’s done as quickly as we can — within 24 hours of us being notified. At this point, we feel like we are notifying and informing staff and parents in the schools using this mechanism.”