October 9, 2020: Albemarle K-3 student to begin hybrid in-person instruction on November 9

  
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This installment’s Patreon-fueled shout-out is for me to say… 

"Early voting is underway for all registered voters. Vote in-person or request a ballot by mail. Register to vote by October 13. Visit elections.virginia.gov/registration/voter-forms to do so!”

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The Albemarle School Board has voted 4-3 to proceed with a return to school for students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade beginning on November 9, a month from today. What is known as Stage 3 will also involve more in-person students for instruction on English as a second language, special education, and for those without broadband internet. This was the recommendation of Superintendent Matthew Haas. 

“It is our job of course to balance the expert advice we have about the health and safety issues with school against what’s in the best educational interest of our kids,” said Kate Acuff, representative from the Jack Jouett Magisterial District. She said she was concerned about the potential for the achievement gap to grow, and that parents should have the option to decide for themselves whether to proceed. 

Before the vote, one of the members said they got an email from a bus driver concerned that students on pupil transport would not be sitting six feet apart from each other because all seats would be used. One administration official acknowledged that would be the case, but that mask-wearing and hand sanitizing would be sufficient mitigation. 

Another School Board member asked whether athletic activity would include competition.

“Our athletic directors have been working through a lot of different protocols,” said Jay Thomas, director of secondary education. “In July for three weeks they actually piloted conditioning. What would happen is that they are in the process of putting together and finalizing protocols and procedures for each of the sports to be able to condition in November for VHSL sports that start the first week of December.

Superintendent Matthew Haas said there are already 1,000 students whose parents or guardians who have pulled out of the school district all together. He said there are many who cannot do so. 

“The people who have the means have their children either in pods in the community, spending thousands and thousands of dollars to pay, I hate to say it, but paying some of our teachers who have resigned or have gone on long-term leave to be their teachers in that pod,” Haas said. 

Haas said attendance for synchronous virtual learning for high school students is below 60 percent for those on free or reduced lunch. 

Acuff, Dave Oberg, Jonno Alcaro and Katrina Callsen voted for the move. Graham Paige, Judy Le and Ellen Osborne voted against. Let’s hear some of their voices. 

Osborne said she was concerned that some of the students would have new teachers. 

“We always hear how important the relationships are and now we’re willing to disrupt that for going to school every other day, and I’m not convinced that the trade-off is worth it,” Osborne said. 

Le thought the move will be premature. 

“The risk is too great, I still think the list is great,” said Judy Le. “And then we’re going to break that for the reward that is questionable of two days of in-person learning and three full days of asynchronous, and breaking these relationships.” 

Paige cited three reasons why he voted against the proposal. 

“That’s the fact that cases in our area continue to rise,” Paige said. “The positivity rate is above the state average and we can’t really say with any certainty what’s the transmission rate going to be because we don’t have walls that separate us from UVA or the city.”

Dave Oberg understood all of these arguments.

“My gut, just my gut, my heart says why would we risk it? But my brain says, listen, we have experts who have done this analysis who have said as long as these things are followed, it’s safe,” Oberg said. “I haven’t seen any analysis that’s contrary to it.” 

Acuff said that if the number of cases suddenly rise with more outbreaks, they can reconsider the decision. Haas has the authority to go back to a lower stage at any point. 

“I was very much heartened by the improvements in our communication with the health department, the improvements in testing ability, the protocols for contact tracing and just the turn-around in terms of the testing,” Acuff said. 

After the vote, Paige said the Board would pull together to support the transition despite the split vote. 

“We’ll be moving forward then as a unified system, not as a 4-3 split but a 7-0 division,” Paige said. 

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There are another 1,114 cases of COVID in Virginia today, and the statewide seven-day average for positive tests remains at 4.8 percent. In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are another 39 cases, with another 17 in Charlottesville and another eight from Albemarle. Yesterday, the city surpassed Albemarle in total counts. Today there have been a total of 1,438 cases in Charlottesville compared to 1,417 in the county.  The seven-day average for the Blue Ridge Health District is 5.3 percent today, up from the 4.5 recorded on October 1. 

Some demographic information of note. Since the pandemic, 44 percent of cases have been between people between the ages of 10 and 30. However, there are no deaths within that range. All of the 73 deaths to date have been people over the age of 50, with over the vast majority of those of people over the age of 70. 

The Blue Ridge Health District is within the VDH’s Northwest Region, where overall the number of cases has been increasing for eight days, with burden considered in the high threshold. Percent positivity in the region has also been increased steadily, as has the number of healthcare workers with positive cases. This data can be seen on the VDH’s pandemic metrics page

The University of Virginia reported 219 active cases yesterday, with 189 of them students. Twenty-one percent of quarantine rooms are filled, as are eight percent of isolation rooms. 

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The election is three and a half weeks away, and the talk this week has been split between the president’s positive COVID diagnosis and the vice presidential debate on Wednesday. The Center for Politics at the University of Virginia took another look into Sabato’s Crystal Ball this week and invited vice presidential expert Joel Goldstein to weigh in. 

“To put into perspective, it was a debate where the fact that the candidates are older than has ever happened before in our history, and the fact that the president has been diagnosed positive for with COVID puts some more greater emphasis on the vice presential candidates,” Goldstein said. “It’s also the first time that a woman of color has been a vice presidential candidate or on a national ticket.” 

To watch the rest of Goldstein’s review as well as commentary on the fly, visit the Center for Politics channel on YouTube.

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More than 1,000 homes and businesses in Albemarle County and Charlottesville were without power this morning, according to Dominion Power. This included City Hall, where in-person voting still continued despite the outage.

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