By Debbie Adams
Update: The Roanoke County School Board has called a special meeting for Thursday, January 6, at 1 p.m. to have further discussion, clarify, and reconsider the motion passed on January 4 regarding mask requirements and adherence to public health guidance. This appears to be in response to a statement issued by Dr. Cynthia Morrow, Director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health District, on Wednesday, January 5, which reads: “I need to stress the importance of maintaining universal indoor masking in our schools. Masking is currently required and should stay in place until our levels of community transmission significantly decrease. Now is not the time to experiment with our teachers’ and our children’s health.”
Original article: The Roanoke County School Board has selected David Linden as chairman for 2022. The vote was taken at the School Board work session on January 4. Linden, representing the Hollins District, was first elected to the Roanoke County School Board in 2017 and re-elected in 2021. A long-time real estate agent in the valley, he previously served as board vice-chairman for the latter half of 2020. Linden, a native of Ohio, is a graduate of Roanoke College with a degree in political science and criminal justice.
The board next selected Brent Hudson as the vice-chairman. Hudson is serving his first term in office, having been elected in November 2021 to serve a portion of an unexpired Catawba District term. A Roanoke Valley native, Hudson currently serves as the chief deputy for the Roanoke County Sheriff’s Department, and previously served as a school resource officer (SRO) for the Glenvar schools.
The work session consisted mainly of briefings on consent agenda financial reports, the budget process, and a COVID update. However, at the end of the work session, newcomer Cheryl Facciani, representing the Windsor Hills District, introduced a motion to make the wearing of masks optional in Roanoke County Public Schools, effective January 15– based on information that Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin will announce an end to the mask mandate in schools when he takes office on that date. Linden, Hudson and Facciani voted in favor of the optional mask rule in anticipation of the governor’s announcement.
Mike Wray (Cave Spring) voted against the motion, requesting time to gain citizen input and advice from legal counsel. Tim Greenway, who represents the Vinton District, voted against making masks optional “at this time” based on the legality of the move until Youngkin makes the actual change in policy. The original plan of School Board members seems to have been to wait until their next meeting on January 18 to take a vote–after Youngkin takes office–but they proceeded with the vote when Facciani requested action on her motion.
In other business during the work session, School Board members were updated on progress on the $28.5 million William Byrd High School Renovation Project.
Harvey Grimes, Assistant Director of Facilities & Operations, told the board that “lead time had been a factor” which pushed out the date of completion of the project until the summer of 2023. The good news is that all the doors for the entire school are expected to be shipped on January 10. The doors have presented a big hurdle to overcome as they are necessary to secure classrooms and allow students to transition from learning cottages back to regular classrooms.
Boilers arrived the week of December 27 and will be connected during Spring Break. Furniture arrived on December 23 and will be stored until needed.
Jeff Terry, Manager of Information Systems for RCPS, updated the board on an Emergency Connectivity Grant the school system has been awarded which will provide $164,948 for 705 hotspots throughout the county to enhance remote learning for an additional year. The board approved moving forward on the grant immediately, rather than waiting until its meeting on January 18. No local match is required for this grant.
Dr. Rhonda Stegall, Assistant Superintendent of Administration, presented her usual COVID update based on the latest data from December 26-January 1. The entire state of Virginia is at a high transmission rate. In Roanoke County the positivity rate is 27% (9% in the previous report) with the number of cases doubling to 626.4 (previously 277).
In the 2021-2022 school year thus far, there have been 144 staff members and 879 students testing positive. Monthly in-school exposures from August through December total nine for staff and 1,256 for students. Stegall noted that these numbers indicated the mitigation strategies being employed by RCPS are working (masks, three feet social distancing with masks, etc.). During the same time period, quarantines have ranged between 300 and 500 students. She expects those numbers to be higher in the next report with the recent uptick in cases.
Stegall detailed for board members the current regulations in place for COVID:
- The CDC’s Federal Order on transportation applies to all public transportation including school buses, and regardless of the mask policy at school, passengers and drivers must wear a mask even if fully vaccinated.
- As of August 12, 2021, the State Health Commissioner Order of Public Health Emergency mandated that all individuals ages two and older must wear masks when indoors at public and private K-12 schools.
- In addition, State Law SB1303 is in effect until August 1, 2022, and requires each school board to “offer in-person instruction… in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any current applicable mitigation strategies for K-12 schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
- The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry requires all K-12 school employees to wear masks while indoors during substantial and high community transmission regardless of vaccination statues.
Stegall went into great detail on new CDC and VDH guidelines. She pointed out that if universal masking is made optional, the Virginia Department of Health isolation and quarantine guidance calls for longer isolation and quarantine periods, affecting in-school instruction time.
Finance Director Susan Peterson kicked off the budget development season with a review of the budget process, Average Daily Membership, the Local Composite Index, the governor’s budget, Replacement Funds (Instructional Resources, Fleet, and Technology), and the 2022-2033 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) draft. The School Board is expected to adopt the budget in March, which will then be sent to the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors for approval in April.
The School Board and the Board of Supervisors will meet in a joint session on Tuesday, January 11 at 5 p.m. The next regularly scheduled School Board meeting with take place on January 18 at 6 p.m.