The Loudoun County School Board voted Tuesday to use a “risk matrix” as a more comprehensive means of deciding how to safely provide part-time in-person learning for students — that is, once local coronavirus spread significantly subsides.
During Tuesday’s meeting, board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) made a motion that would, among other actions, return students included in “Stage 1” and “Stage 2” of the school system’s hybrid learning implementation plan to in-person learning two days a week. These would include all K-2 students as well as preschoolers, pre-K students, those enrolled at the Academies of Loudoun’s Monroe Advanced Technical Academy, certain students with disabilities, and select English learners.
Serotkin’s motion would also have LCPS resume its hybrid learning implementation plan — which had most recently reached “Stage 3,” affecting grades 3-5 and remaining AOL seniors — once the two major core indicators of COVID-19 spread, as provided by the CDC, dip below what LCPS has deemed “highest risk level.”
As of Wednesday morning, Loudoun County has seen 421.5 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks, and the county’s positivity rate during the same timeframe is at 17.1 percent, both metrics well beyond the “highest risk level” threshold.
Last month, LCPS returned to 100-percent distance learning when the incidence rate surpassed 200 new cases per 100,000 persons and the positivity rate exceeded 10 percent for five consecutive business days, a decision Serotkin on Tuesday said “automatically and indiscriminately shut down all in-person instruction.”
Serotkin, John Beatty (Catoctin District) and Jeff Morse (Dulles District) voted against Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan’s (Sterling District) motion to establish that trigger during the board’s meeting on Nov. 17, 2020.
“As a result, our youngest learners and populations most in need of in-person instruction are not able to currently receive it, while at the same time we have high-school sports continuing to go on, our internet café is open, driver’s ed instruction [is] going on and Parks and Rec activities still occur in LCPS buildings,” Serotkin said. “The current situation does not make any sense.”
In addition, Serotkin’s motion called on LCPS to resume hybrid learning implementation continue once one of the two major core indicators dropped below the “highest risk level” for five consecutive days, rather than the five consecutive business days earlier established.
He also moved for the adoption of the “risk matrix,” a creation of LCPS administrators that combines the county’s case incidence and percent positivity rates with recently established school- and division-based indicators, including level of school transmission and implementation of mitigation strategies.
Morse moved to amend Serotkin’s base motion in the hopes that students at all grade levels would be able to participate in hybrid learning at the start of the spring semester, saying the board has “seen evidence again and again that the environment within the school is likely safer than the environment out of school.” However, he withdrew his motion following roughly 20 minutes of board debate.
Sheridan moved to make an amendment of her own, which would strike the resumption of hybrid learning for “Stage 1” and “Stage 2” students from Serotkin’s base motion. She cited the school system’s hopes to expedite vaccinations for on-site staffers as a potential conflict.
“We cannot accelerate vaccinations at the same time we bring a large number of students,” she said when speaking to her motion. “The reality is we are not at 9 percent [positivity]; we are at 16, pushing 17 percent.”
Sheridan’s amendment passed 6-3, with Beatty, Morse and Serotkin opposed. Prior to voting on his amended base motion, Serotkin said he could not vote in favor, referencing quotes from international epidemiologists who encourage the continuity of in-person or hybrid learning.
“I cannot vote for metrics that don’t have a defined path for getting our kids back in school. That’s the situation we’ve been in for the last 10 months,” he said. He further quoted Dr. Fiona Russell of the University of Melbourne in saying of the decision to keep students at home, “We are driving with the headlights off, and we’ve got kids in the car.”
The base motion as amended passed 7-2, with Morse and Serotkin opposed.Tuesday’s Loudoun County School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/499615620.