By Bobby Bordelon
Featuring reporting by Aila Boyd, Shawn Nowlin, Heather Bell
After the return to school began, a number of schools have started the cycle of shutting down and starting up as positive cases are found within and around school life. In Greenbrier County, Salem, Botetourt County, and Radford, cases led to temporary school closures, with Radford being the first to come back out.
In West Virginia, Greenbrier County Schools, the local Health Department, and the WV Regional Epidemiologist confirmed that a student at Greenbrier West High School had tested positive for the virus. In an update from the Greater Greenbrier COVID-19 Task Force, the student was confirmed to have symptoms.
“We had our first positive student case,” the Task Force announced. “She was symptomatic. Contact tracing has been completed (for everyone who was within 6 feet of the infected person for 15 minutes). Greenbrier West, where the young lady is a student, is closed for three days for cleaning per the county reentry plan. During that three day period, there are no extracurricular activities either.”
In keeping with the local county’s plan for positive cases, the school announced a shift to remote learning, beginning on Monday, Sept. 21, and is expected to last through Sept. 23.
“In collaboration with the Greenbrier County Health Department and the WV Regional Epidemiologist, Greenbrier County Schools has confirmed a positive COVID-19 case at Greenbrier West High School,” announced Greenbrier County Schools. “Contact tracing has been completed, and students identified as close contacts are in quarantine. Although health officials determined it safe for students and staff to re-enter the school immediately, school officials transitioned students to full-remote learning through Sept. 23 to ensure that every precaution is taken for the safety of students and staff. All extra-curricular and athletic activities are also canceled during that time.”
In Virginia, at least three individuals who regularly attend school have tested positive for the virus since school started on Aug. 31. This includes two Salem High School and one at South Salem Elementary School. In order to keep health information private, the individuals’ positions at the schools have not been identified. Schools were closed shortly after.
“This person has not been inside the high school during the day at all this school year but has participated in an after-school activity, the last time being on Sept. 8,” announced the school. “Based on our contract tracing efforts, as guided by the Virginia Department of Health, there was no known exposure to students or staff while this individual was on school property.”
Another letter sent that day said, “A South Salem Elementary School member has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The last day the person was on school premises was Sept. 3. The local health department has determined there was no known exposure to students or staff while at school.”
School officials conferred with Dr. Molly O’Dell, communicable disease director for the Virginia Department of Health, and followed the proper protocols established by her office and the division.
No one was quarantined after the local health department determined there was no known exposure.
Botetourt County Public Schools informed parents of students at Lord Botetourt High School and Buchanan Elementary School on Sept. 14 that students at both schools were being treated for probable COVID-19. Dr. John Russ, the division superintendent, also noted in his letter that the division is working closely with the Roanoke and Alleghany Health Department to determine if students may have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
“We understand this news is concerning and want to share our efforts to keep students and staff safe, healthy, and in school,” said Russ in a letter to parents. “Given the possibility of multiple close contacts within the classroom, we are requiring students in this class to transition to remote learning for a period of time. Students in the class impacted will be permitted to return to school for in-person learning on Sept. 28, 2020, as long as they are symptom free. Buchanan Elementary will remain open during this time. … It has been determined that the areas of potential exposure were limited and did not involve any classroom areas. Lord Botetourt High School will remain open during this time.”
After the emergence of COVID-19 cases in Radford, VA, Radford City Public Schools moved students to online learning earlier this school year. On Sept. 14, students returned to the classroom after cases subsided.
“We have met with many members of our RCPS safety team as well as our school board and are excited to continue moving forward and return safely to the hybrid model instructional plan beginning Monday, Sept. 14,” said RCPS Superintendent Robert Graham in a message to the school community. “We are eager to see our Rockin’ Rs on Monday and Bobcats on Tuesday.”
The return has brought some changes, including more virtually synchronous classrooms for both hybrid and completely virtual students, Wednesdays set as asynchronous days with opportunities for office hours and teacher planning, and a new “lowest score” a student can receive on homework or participation – 60 percent.
“They will also be allowed longer time to complete assignments and have the ability to make up tests and quizzes if they score a C or below,” Graham said. “If a student decides to take a test or quiz over, the higher grade of the two will be counted in the teacher’s grade book. As we transition from fully remote back to our hybrid model, we, once again, ask our school community for patience, flexibility and grace as we continue to learn together during this so-called ‘New Normal,’ of the school year 2020-2021. … Please know that students are always welcome to transition back to the hybrid program if you are a VR student and vice versa if interested.”