WARM SPRINGS — Bath County school officials have targeted Monday, Jan. 11, as a return date to classrooms for “vulnerable students.”

Superintendent Sue Hirsh is also hopeful that all students can return to class on Monday, Jan. 18.

Hirsh outlined these plans during Tuesday night’s Bath County School Board meeting, held in the auditorium at Bath County High School.

Bath County students have been attending virtual classes since schools closed on Nov. 30. That decision came a day after a faculty member tested positive for COVID-19 — the first confirmed case among staff in Bath County schools.

This decision follows Model 3 of the Instructional Model for Bath County Public Schools.

Hirsh said BCHS sports teams will also be allowed to return to practice Monday.

“Although we give consideration to resuming our practicing and conditioning, at the same time we bring back the vulnerable students that need our small room, one-on-one attention, as sort of a half-step,” Hirsh said.

“It is neither full-time — what we were doing in the fall — and it is not virtual,” she added. “It would allow those students to have human contact and to get the support that they are desperately needing.”

Hirsh said the return to classrooms is optional. Parents may opt for their children to continue virtual learning.

“A parent would not have to send their children,” she said. “They would be given an opportunity to send their children.”

Hirsh said she anticipated guidance in the coming days from the state that would update current guidelines for school officials to follow.

“I believe I am encouraged by what I have heard, and that is about all I can say,” Hirsh said. “I think the 18th still remains to be seen, according to what we know about how to make the best and wisest decision, but I certainly hope it is soon.”

The school board approved these measures by an unanimous 5-0 vote.

“There is no question that our students need to be back in school,” Hirsh said. “There are things that they cannot get through even the best virtual instruction.

“I believe our teachers want to see our students in school,” she added.

Hirsh said she met Monday with BCHS Principal Dr. Michael Perry and BCHS Athletic Director Chase Davidson. After the meeting, Davidson submitted guidelines for BCHS athletes to return to practice.

“We talked about what we would like to do, how we think we can do it well and keep our students safe, as well as allow them the opportunity to get practice and conditioning in before the possibility of any competition occurring,” Hirsh said.

Prior to the action by the school board, several members of the public discussed the importance of students returning to classrooms and athletic competition.

Shannan Waldeck, a parent and teacher at Valley Elementary School, said that if learning remains virtual, she would like a discussion on the amount of homework assigned to students.

“These are very trying times for everyone, including our children,” she said.

Waldeck said her children begin their virtual learning day at 8:30 a.m. and it often continues until after 10 p.m. 

“They want to come back to school because they have said that the workload is not really as bad when they were in school as it is virtual,” she said.

Waldeck said she recently experienced an “aha moment” with her children.

“As a parent, I see how this affects our children,” she said. “I had an aha moment when one of my children told me, ‘Mom, I’m at my limit; I’m stressed out; I’m maxed out.’

“Has anybody asked, ‘How are the kids doing?’ Has anyone asked our children, ‘How can we make it better for you?’,”?she concluded.

Chris Whiddon, the parent of two children at Millboro Elementary School, said he was “skeptical” of virtual learning.

“The kids need to be back in school, and they need to be back in sports,” he said. “We need to push back on the reflex to close schools.”

Whiddon recommended another survey among parents and school staff members regarding a return to school.

“School closures are detrimental to the physical, mental and financial health of children and their families,” he said. “I think another survey for parents and teachers would be helpful to gauge where the community stands on the topic of in-person school and sports.”

Greg Pritt of Valley Springs said that if children can’t return to class soon, he would like for schools to provide supplies for children.

“I really hope we can get the kids back to school on the 18th,” he said.

School board member Jeff Grimm echoed the sentiments of these concerned parents.

“I fear that we’re asking way too much of the kids,” Grimm said. “It’s enough. We need to get back to some normalcy.”

In other business Tuesday night, the school board held organizational proceedings for 2021.

This included the following election of officers —Chairman: Jimmy Hooker; Vice Chairman: Karen Hise; Clerk: Sue Hirsh; Deputy Clerk: Sharon Fry.

“I’d like to thank the board for giving me another year in this position,” Hooker said. 

Fiscal Agent: Justin Rider; Deputy Fiscal Agent: Sue Hirsh; School Board Attorney: Chris Singleton/Charles Moore; Superintendent’s Designee: Allison Hicklin; Approval of Signatures in Superintendent’s Absence: Allison Hicklin.

Virginia School Boards Association Delegate: Zach Burns; Alternate Delegate: Clara Tennant.

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