Because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, Albemarle County students will return to all-online classes starting next Tuesday, according to a Wednesday announcement.
The school division, which returned to in-person class for some elementary students on Monday, will remain online for at least two weeks, officials said. Case numbers will be reevaluated weekly after that, with an announcement about the plan for classes to be made on Wednesdays.
Several school divisions in the area have switched to all-online classes in response to the rise in cases. As of Wednesday, schools in Greene County and Fluvanna County are the only ones in the area still offering in-person instruction.
Albemarle Superintendent Matt Haas announced the decision in an email to families Wednesday. He was set to recommend to the School Board on Thursday whether to open up in-person classes to more students.
Haas is no longer planning to do so, according to his message.
“While schools remain among the safest places in our community in helping to prevent the spread of the virus, given what is occurring around us, now is not the time to be recommending that we continue with or increase the thousands of students now receiving their instruction face-to-face,” Haas wrote.
As of Wednesday, the county has recorded 561.1 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days. That measure, the case incidence rate, has been above 200 for 40 days.
Previously, the division has said it would revert to all virtual classes when the case incidence rate was above 200 for seven consecutive days and when the 14-day positivity rate exceeded 8% for the same time frame.
Wednesday was the fourth day that the positivity rate was more than 8%.
Several employees, including those with the Albemarle Education Association, were critical of the decision to bring students back this week amid the surge.
January is the second-worst month of the pandemic so far for the Blue Ridge Health District. The University of Virginia Medical Center has seen an increase in the number of COVID patients and made several changes in response such restricting visitors and diverting patients to other hospitals.
“The uncertain and highly volatile nature of this illness requires us to be instantly flexible and proactive in our decision-making,” Haas wrote. “I no longer will be making recommendations tied to marking periods.”
Haas added that he’ll rely on health data, the advice of the health district and views of parents and employees to determine when to make a recommendation to the School Board.
“This will allow us to expand face-to-face instruction based upon the most current input and data rather than waiting until the next mid-quarter School Board meeting to make a decision about the next marking period,” he said.
The county school division has a five-stage reopening plans for classes this school year, and had planned to revisit the stage on a quarterly basis. The School Board voted in October to move to Stage Three in November, which allowed for preschoolers through third-grades to have in-person classes twice a week. In Stage One, all classes are held online.
“I recognize the challenges—academic, social and emotional—presented by all-virtual instruction to our students and their families,” Haas wrote. “I also recognize the heroic efforts of our exceptionally talented and dedicated staff in serving the needs of our students and families. Each day we are improving the quality of virtual learning.”