Courtney Atkins, school nurse updates the School Board on COVID-19 vaccinations.

‘We can start vaccinating folks this week’

At Tuesday night’s Rappahannock County Public School Board meeting, Superintendent Shannon Grimsley announced that she believes teachers and staff could be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by March 1.

“We were very excited to see that the governor put educators working in a K-12 setting to the 1B tier, which is much further up the tiers than we thought,” Grimsley said. “And we found out just today that we can start vaccinating our folks this week.”

At least 50 of RCPS’s 150 teachers and staff have already registered through Courtney Atkins, school nurse, to get their first dose of vaccine through the schools. 

In December, the school board approved a plan to phase students back up to four-day-a-week in-person instruction, tentatively starting with kindergarten through second grade in February. The schools have been watching community transmission metrics in the county to determine when exactly it will be safe for students to return.  

“Our primary indicators and secondary indicators haven’t been in the green and yellow,” Grimsley said. “The issue we’ve had with these indicators are they’re very much about community transmission and aren’t necessarily indicative of what you see in your school community — in fact they’re very disparate … but as of Jan. 4 we’re still in the red with two of our primary indicators.”

But with the news that teachers and staff will be fully vaccinated in March, at least one board member expressed a preference to wait until then. “I would like to do it month to month,” said Vice Chair Larry Grove. “It’s hard to tell with the dashboard being [in the red] and so forth but I would think we’d want to move towards that second vaccination date.”

Rachel Bynum agreed with Grove, adding that “especially with the new variant, I just don’t have enough data” and though she wanted to open as quickly as possible, she wanted to keep an eye on it. 

COVID-19 response logic

Dr. Grimsley walked school board members through the RCPS logic model, the tool the schools use to determine the best way to respond to cases of COVID-19. 

If a single case is identified but the Virginia Department of Health and schools determine there has been no exposure, the individual will quarantine for 10 days after symptom onset and a COVID notice would be sent to parents and teachers in the school community. 

If a single case is identified in a primary classroom, however, Grimsley said the class would be put on an automatic 10-day quarantine with distance learning. “We found in dealing with our outbreak last semester that it’s impossible to really discern the amount of exposure that can happen with that age group just because as hard as those teachers try and as great as the kids are complying, it’s just a little bit more difficult,” she said.

In cases where there is known exposure, the Virginia Department of Health has empowered schools to conduct contact tracing efforts. Courtney Atkins and Robin Bolt have been trained by the VDH to contact trace. “We feel like we have a good handle on how to do the contact tracing and get things stopped and the spread slowed as quickly as possible,” Atkins said.  

Dr. Grimsley explained that exposed individuals will be asked to quarantine for 10 days and can return to school at the end of those 10 days if they are experiencing no symptoms and have tested negative for the virus. 

“If it’s a single case with limited exposure you wouldn’t anticipate a closure of school, but let’s say we get a call at 6:30 in the evening — it’s going to take some time to call everybody and poor Courtney doesn’t want to be calling people until midnight or 1:00 in the morning and she may call me and say, ‘I need a day.’ … we want to make sure we can be very thorough and get our contact tracing done,” Grimsley said.

In the event that the school sees multiple unrelated cases of COVID-19, exposed individuals will be asked to quarantine for 10 days and can return to school if they have no symptoms at the end of that period and can present negative COVID-19 test results. 

Two or more related cases of COVID-19 are considered an outbreak. Outbreaks will be handled according to the scope of their reach. If it is limited to a classroom, the class may be asked to quarantine. But if it’s not, Grimsley said, “then you can anticipate that we might close down a building for two weeks to monitor and watch the full quarantine period and make sure we can hone in on these cases.”

In all scenarios, COVID-19 notices will be sent out to families and staff. 

Wellness Center update

Valley Health and Health Connect America have agreed to partner with RCPS to provide care to students and teachers. Mental health and behavioral health services could begin in the next couple of months, according to Susan Stoltzman, who has been spearheading the feasibility studies for the clinic.

Presenting the results of an RCPS survey, Stoltzman said that of 101 parent respondents, 44% said they would use the wellness center “regularly.” Fourteen percent of families said they were uninsured, and 50% have children with chronic health concerns such as allergies. 

The top acute healthcare concerns among parents, Stoltzman said, “were headaches, sore throat, stomachaches, colds and fevers but right up there with those physical concerns were a lot of concerns about anxiety and depression and a lot of parents — 37% — really didn’t have or didn’t know how to find a mental health provider or mental health services.”

And of the 46 teachers and staff who responded to the same survey, 76% said they would use the clinic regularly. “Their acute concerns mirrored those of parents, but teachers and staff also mentioned poverty and food insecurity as real concerns,” Stoltzman said.  

Students and teachers will soon have access to outpatient therapy one day a week and telehealth services through which they can receive prescription medication. “The only thing that’s delaying things a little bit,” Stoltzman explained, “is in order to have an outpatient therapy facility, [it] needs to be licensed. It’s not a problem, it’s just going slow because of COVID. But as soon as that happens, we’re ready the next day to start this.” 

FY22 budget planning

State sales taxes and lottery revenues are down this year, creating a deficit of state funding for RCPS to the tune of $117,063. 

RCPS is still waiting to hear how much federal funding it will receive for the upcoming fiscal year, but a second large infusion of emergency coronavirus stimulus dollars allocated to the schools by Congress could make up for some of the loss from the state.

The local composite index (a Virginia metric which calculates each locality’s ability to pay for its school division using property value, residents’ adjusted gross income, and taxable retail sales as indicators) has determined that the county is responsible for providing for 80% of the school’s budget. The school board and the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to hold a joint meeting next month to discuss the next fiscal year.

Watch Tuesday's School Board meeting:

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