COVID-19 Employee Information

Good evening, VBCPS colleagues-

I just want to take a moment to check in with you this summer.

While scrolling through social media, I’ve seen wonderful pictures of beach and backyard adventures. I know some of you are involved in our summer programming while so very many of you are focused on preparing for the next school year, however that may manifest. These online platforms are a great way to stay connected and keep our students engaged in learning. At the same time, these forums can sometimes be a marvelous vehicle for rumors, and I’d like to make sure we are staying in touch to avoid as much of that as we can. Especially now, because regardless of where you are or how your summer is going, I know that there are struggles for many of us as we think about how the school year ended and how we might reopen.

Let me first say that I feel your anxiety and frustration. I empathize with the uncertainty. The issue of how school should look in the fall has taken such a hard turn, complicated by ever-shifting information about a health pandemic unlike anything the world has seen in the modern age. And lately, it seems the question of opening schools has become politicized. Some think we should open schools; others think we should not. There are rallies and Facebook pages and groups demanding we take their position. It’s noisy, disconcerting and sometimes downright scary.

And in the middle stand the educators. Like you, I want nothing more than to see our students again, to hear the hum and feel the energy of a school filled with children and with each of you. But like you I also have concerns about that. I understand that we can’t open our schools until and unless we know we can do so in a way that allows you and our students to be together safely—and in a way that is backed up by the best science and the advice of medical experts.

So, I want to be very clear and reassure you that in planning for the fall, we are taking everyone’s needs into consideration. That means you and each one of your colleagues. Teachers, bus drivers, food service staff, counselors and custodians: VBSchools is all 14,000-plus thousand of you, each life as precious as that of every single one of our 67,000-plus students, and I am committed to doing everything I can to preserve your safety and well-being both in and out of our school buildings. In part, that’s why it’s been such a slow process in determining what scenario we’re going to start our new school year with.

I hope you have taken the staff questionnaire and if not, please do so right now, because it closes Monday. Your answers to those questions are a crucial part of this conversation.

And this has been a conversation. Please know that the men and women who have been working on solutions for opening school are an amazing group of leaders, and each of us feels the weight of, and responsibility for, getting this right. So, we are listening—to our parents, to our community and to you. Just this week, we met with several groups of teachers from across the division to discuss re-opening plans, and the message was loud and clear: We want to come back to the classroom, but not without robust health mitigation measures in place. I hear you. I want to keep you safe.

Also this week, I met with a panel of 11 local medical professionals — some with children in our schools — and they offered up a wealth of valuable, science-based and data-driven information that will factor into our decision for the fall. These physicians and public health experts have agreed to be part of an ongoing work group that will continue to advise us well into the school year.

It is my intention to let you know before the end of this month what my recommendation is for how and when school should reopen, and I will strive to have as many of your questions about logistics for that scenario answered as possible. I will also be presenting that recommendation to the School Board during their July 28 meeting. And again, please fill out the staff questionnaire right away, as this will help us as we continue to plan.

Please know that as we near a decision, I am firm on this: Our schools will not be open for face-to-face instruction if medical guidance does not deem it to be safe as possible for everyone in our VBCPS community. And we certainly will not open without the necessary health mitigations in place to make that happen.

I know many of us feel overwhelmed and stressed, and I encourage you to reach out for help where you feel comfortable doing so. That could be internally, through our BEWell program, or externally, such as through CDC suggested resources. Importantly, I hope you are taking some time away from all these issues and questions and just enjoying your summer. You have certainly earned that.

I am so proud of you. I am so grateful for you. You are part of the most talented, determined and committed team I have ever had the honor to work with.

We will get through this. Together.

Please take care of yourself and each other.

Aaron Spence, Ed.D.