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COVID cases climb in schools

Local schools have been open for less than one month, but 111 COVID-19 cases have already been confirmed in students and staff of schools in the tri-county area.

Hundreds of staff members and students have been isolated or quarantined in recent weeks as educators work to keep the virus out of classrooms and continue in person learning. School districts have, at times, had to quarantine entire classrooms, buses or even temporarily shut down school buildings to mitigate further spread.

On Tuesday, Aug. 31, Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS) Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson confirmed cases have occurred in students and staff members in the elementary, middle and high school buildings.

Johnson said as of Tuesday, the Piedmont Health District verified 29 coronavirus cases across the division since school began Aug. 2. Of those 29 cases, 14 were elementary school students. Five elementary school staff members, one middle school staff member and two high school staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19, as have three middle school students and five high school students at PECPS.

According to Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones, 36 COVID-19 cases have been verified in the school district since classes began Monday, Aug. 9. Seven of those cases were as recent as Aug. 23.

Buckingham County Public Schools (BCPS), which also began classes Aug. 9, has experienced 38 total COVID-19 cases, 34 of which were student cases and four of which were adult cases.

In a statement made Tuesday, Aug. 31, by Paul “Chance” Reynolds, head of school for Fuqua School in Farmville, Reynolds noted the school has experienced eight positive cases of the virus since classes began Thursday, Aug. 26, three of which were still active as of Tuesday.

In working closely with the health district, local schools have had to isolate and quarantine students and staff as contact tracing is performed. Entire classrooms, buses and even whole school buildings have at times been quarantined to prevent further spread.

PECPS, according to Johnson, had to close two early childhood classes in August due to COVID-19 concerns.

According to Jones, CuCPS has had to quarantine eight classrooms and one entire bus in order to mitigate spread of the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, the school had quarantined a cumulative total of 284 students and staff members since classes started.

At BCPS, 205 students and 16 adults have had to quarantine to prevent further spread. In recent weeks, the school has had to quarantine a whole classroom for 14 days and cancelled football activities for two weeks due to multiple virus cases. The Buckingham County Preschool building, Hicks added, was even closed for two weeks to prevent spread. The preschool reopened Aug. 31, and the football team ended its quarantine Sept. 3.

“These decisions were made in collaboration with the Piedmont Health District,” Hicks noted.

“While we have had to ask families and faculty to occasionally quarantine, isolate and pivot to virtual learning via Zoom and Google Classroom over the past few weeks, we have not had to ask any of our classes, buses and/or school buildings to do the same to date,” Reynolds said Tuesday.

Continuing a child’s education during a period of quarantine or isolation remains a priority for area schools.

On Tuesday, Johnson said students are able to complete their work from home on individual technology devices with hotspots available to students who need one.

“In the case of the PreK and (kindergarten) classes, those students will have packets of work available,” she added. “Their technology devices will be distributed later in the semester.”

According to Hicks, quarantined or isolated students at BCPS are provided asynchronous instruction. Teachers stay in contact with students and their families during the isolation or quarantine period.

“Our teachers have done a good job in providing work for our students that are out of school due to COVID-19,” Jones said in reference to CuCPS. “Work is provided in a number of ways, such as learning packets, Google Classroom, electronic messages and checking in on families.

“I know that the positive COVID-19 cases and the need to quarantine students causes hardships on families,” he added. “Our entire school team has done an amazing job in making sure that school safety is the priority. I appreciate the numerous hours and dedication.”