By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton schools Superintendent Eddie Lawrence expects all students in grades K to 12 will be allowed back in school in person four days a week by Christmas vacation, he announced during the Oct. 22 school board meeting.
That is the plan provided “everything stays the same and we don’t run into any more hurdles” with COVID-19, Lawrence said.
Earlier this month, an Occohannock Elementary School student tested positive for COVID-19, and all students and staff who had been in contact with the student were sent home for two weeks. The student’s classroom was closed for deep cleaning but the rest of the school operated normally.
No one who had been sent home showed symptoms of COVID-19.
As of last week, kindergarteners were attending school four days a week and the first and second grades were set to return to face-to-face instruction within the following two weeks.
Lawrence had begun surveying parents of seventh graders to determine if it would be feasible to bring back those students next for four-day school weeks.
School board member Charlena Jones asked if Northampton should “pause” bringing all students back to school during flu season. Lawrence said Northampton schools can reverse course if necessary, but all the COVID-19 statistics are trending in a positive direction.
“It’s a scary time for parents. I mean, I get it,” Lawrence said. “Parents want their children to be safe, we want their children to be safe, and at the same time, there’s a growing amount of parents who want their kids back (in school) four days a week.”
The four-day, in-person school week will not be mandatory but another option that parents can choose.
He believes parents are happy both with how the school year is going for children who have been attending class in person and how the COVID-19 incident at Occohannock Elementary was handled.
“And there was no spread there,” school board chair Maxine Rasmussen pointed out.
“No, we were lucky,” Lawrence said.
He offered additional details on how Northampton schools are managing the COVID-19 pandemic at the Northampton board of supervisors meeting Oct. 27.
Hand-washing breaks are built into each school’s daily schedule. At the middle and high school, teachers stand out in the hall in between classes and dispense hand sanitizer for students.
“We try to go no more than about an hour and a half without everybody having washed their hands,” Lawrence said.
To limit the spread of germs, Northampton schools have installed touchless faucets.
The middle and high school also have touchless water bottle filling stations.
Oliver Bennett, chairman of the board of supervisors and a Northampton High School teacher, added that teachers are sanitizing surfaces between classes, including desks, handrails, and anything else the kids touch.
“The public may not realize how labor intensive it is, but just to go by and clean every doorknob in every building between each class exchange takes an awful lot of time,” Lawrence said.
He said keeping Northampton schools clean and sanitized is “very labor intensive right now, but so far I think we’re doing real well.”