Starting next Monday, classes in the Albemarle County school division will move online as a precaution, the division announced Tuesday.
Classes will stay online until Monday, Jan. 11, which allows for a one-week buffer before and after the two-week winter break that starts Dec. 21.
The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases climb locally and across the state following Thanksgiving. The Thomas Jefferson Health District has reported 472 cases this month, with a record 106 new cases on Dec. 5.
“Closing schools to in-person instruction one week before and one week after the upcoming holidays is an additional step in the division’s health strategies for keeping students and staff safe during the pandemic,” the division said in a news release.
The division is currently in Stage Three of its reopening plan, which allows for in-person classes for preschoolers through third-graders. Additionally, special education students, English language learners and those not engaging with virtual instruction are coming into school buildings for assistance.
The School Board will hear details Thursday about Stage Four, which would allow for in-person classes for all students. Elementary students would go to school four days a week while middle and high schoolers would have in-person classes twice a week, according to the presentation.
Albemarle County’s case numbers do not meet the thresholds that the division outlined last month for a switch to all-virtual classes. The thresholds are based on two data points: the county’s case incidence and positivity rates.
As of Tuesday, the case incidence rate, which is determined by the new cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days, is at 261. Before Thanksgiving, it was 143.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers case incidence rates 200 or greater to be in the highest risk category for schools.
The county’s positivity rate is at 3.50%, which is below the county’s 8% threshold, but has steadily risen since Thanksgiving.
The division has said that a case incidence rate of 200 or more for seven days along with a positivity rate of 8% would trigger a move back to all-virtual classes.
Since the division started in-person classes, 14 students and 12 staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the division’s dashboard. Fifteen students and staff members are currently in isolation, and another 34 are in quarantine because they have been identified as a close contact of someone with the illness.
“The encouraging news is that our employees and students have been exceptionally committed to keeping our schools, offices and workplaces safe during the pandemic,” schools Superintendent Matt Haas said in a news release. “As the result of following our health mitigation strategies and practices, there is no evidence of any transmission of the COVID virus on school property.”
Haas said that the return to Stage One now increases the division’s ability to return to Stage Three more fully staffed and with all eligible students back in school beginning Jan. 11.
The division said that principals reach out to families this week with information on student schedules and assignments during the online weeks. Meals will continue to be delivered during those weeks but not during winter break.