November 20, 2020: Charlottesville School Board approves continued planning for Return to Face to Face Learning

  
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Today's Patreon-fueled shout-out is for the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign, an initiative that wants you to plant native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water.  Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page and tell them Lonnie Murray sent you! 

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Virginia has set another one-day total for new COVID-19 cases today with 2,544 new cases bringing the total since March to 213,331. The seven-day average for new cases is now at 2,010. The seven-day average for positive tests has declined slightly to seven percent statewide. The total number of new cases per 100,000 population statewide is now 288.4. That number was 230.4 a week ago and 205.3 two weeks ago. 

In the Blue Ridge Health District there are another 36 cases today, with 12 from Albemarle, eight from Charlottesville, seven from Louisa, four from Nelson, three from Fluvanna, and two from Greene. An additional COVID-19 fatality has been recorded in Nelson, bringing the total for the Blue Ridge Health District to 81. Statewide the death toll is 3,912. Sometime today the nation will cross the quarter-million mark for COVID deaths. 

Different parts of Virginia continue to have different experiences with the pandemic this month. While not reliable as a sole indicator of community spread, percent positivity can give a glimpse into what’s happening. 

  • Central - 5.2% 

  • Eastern - 6%

  • Far Southwest - 15.2%

  • Near Southwest - 10.8% 

  • Northern - 8.2%

  • Northwest - 5.5%

The Charlottesville School Board last night cautiously directed staff to continue planning to begin hybrid in-person education in January, though some members stated they would continue to watch the COVID numbers. (presentation from meeting)

“I also want to say that the Board at our January 4, or at our next meeting after the December 19 meeting looks at the data and says the data is going in the wrong direction, which I fully anticipate it doing, that we have to pull back,” said Chair Jennifer McKeever. 

Under the current plan, pre-K through 6th grade would begin phasing back to class on January 11 and 7th through 12th would return on February 1. 

Sherry Kraft is another member of the School Board.

“I’m comfortable with the idea of affirming or voting to continue working on these preparations with the understanding that we are not locking ourselves that we’re not locking ourselves into what the model says right now,” Kraft said. 

Two-thirds of Charlottesville households with students want their students to return in-person according to materials presented to the School Board. Overall, 83 percent of households with students returned the survey. White families had a 92 percent return rate and households identified as People of Color had a 76 percent return rate. 

Teachers were also asked to give their preference on returning and were given four options and could only choose one. Of 275 elementary teachers surveyed, 97 said they wanted to be in-person, 77 said online, 26 said both in-person and online, and 75 said they would go wherever they were needed. 

McKeever said she was concerned there might not be enough teachers to move forward.

“I want elementary schools to start and to the extent that we have enough teachers, I don’t want us to get into a situation where [human resources] has to tell a teacher that ‘I need you back in the class’ or I need you to resign’,” McKeever said. 

Superintendent Rosa Atkins said the school system will do what it can to stay intact. 

“COVID will not last forever,” Atkins said. “We are going to get through this. It’s a difficult time for everyone and there are a lot of adjustments we’re all having to make. But we want to make this as clear and transparent as possible. We don’t want to lose any of our teachers. We want them to stay. We want to work with our staff. Keep them on board.”

The School Board will make a final decision at their meeting on December 16. They directed staff to find a way to reduce asynchronous learning in 7th graders and up. 

The Board also agreed to hire a firm that can provide temporary bus drivers to provide extra trips to get students to school. COVID restrictions limit capacity to 20 students and assistant director for pupil transit Sherry Eubanks said the additional drivers are required to make sure everyone can get to school. 

“We currently are using every driver we have to drive the students that we are transporting right now, so without extra help, even getting the 383 students to school is going to be a struggle,” Eubanks said. 

The Board approved a process through which a contract will be worked out for the temporary drivers. 

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A volunteer group of computer programmers and technical experts will hold an information session tomorrow to find out more about what projects it can work on to benefit the greater Charlottesville community. Jonathan Kropko is the volunteer lead with Code for Charlottesville.

“Code for Charlottesville is a local chapter of Code for America which is a national network of groups that begin volunteers with tech or data or code or design or research skills to work on a project for a community partner,” Kropko said. 

So far, Code for Charlottesville has worked on projects for the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Charlottesville Fire Department and the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights. To find new partners and volunteers, they are holding a work session tomorrow at 4 p.m for people who want to be part of the leadership team. 

Kropko said the goal of the session is to listen to what the community wants. 

“There’s a huge movement in the tech industry, the phrase they use is social good and I want to put that in quotes,” Kropko said. “Because a lot of time when they talk about the tech for the social good, it’s not really doing anything good for society. A lot of time these projects fizzle out without doing anything useful.”

Kropko said the goal of the information session is to try to come up with useful projects. He said that starts by recruiting volunteers. 

“You have to do a good job with organizing so that people know what they are working on and what the goals are,” Kropko said. “And you have to do a really good job communicating with your partner in the community. 

The Code for Charlottesville MeetUp begins tomorrow at 4 p.m. for people interested in civic tech. Register here

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The Virginia Festival of the Book has announced it will hold next year’s literary celebration in a virtual capacity. The 27th annual festival will take place virtually from March 13 to March 26. 

“All virtual events are free and purchasing participating authors’ books is encouraged but not required,” reads the announcement on the Virginia Humanities website.

Since April, the Virginia Festival of the Book has been holding online events called Shelf Life and they say they have had more than 22,000 viewers. 

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Today in meetings, the Charlottesville City Council will hold a budget work session at 1 p.m. and are expected to make some decisions on the capital improvement program. Last week they were asked to either make cuts or give consent to a plan to fully utilize all of the city’s borrowing capacity. The draft affordable housing plan calls for $10 million in spending every year for ten years. There’s a multimillion dollar project to create a new streetscape for West Main. There’s a long-running request from the schools to reconfigure the middle schools. And on Monday, they were told they’d need to spend up to $4 million to build a roundabout to calm down traffic on 5th Street.  I’ll be producing a story on that to let you know what happens. 

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Tonight at 7 pm, Live Arts will hold another Coffeehouse. These are a series of musical acts from local artists. There are musical performances by Rob Craighurst, Courtney Jacobs, Tanya Kae, Joshua Tucker and more. This is available for free on their YouTube channel, but they are asking people consider paying what they can. Learn more on the Live Arts website.