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Richmond Public Schools To Continue Fall Virtual Learning

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Richmond Public Schools plan to reopen for full virtual instruction this fall due to the novel coronavirus. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Richmond’s public-school board voted 8-1 in favor of a fully virtual fall reopening during a special meeting Tuesday night. The district plans to resume live, virtual instruction for at least the first semester of the next academic school year. 

The vote came after the district released an overwhelming number of public comments from parents and teachers expressing ongoing concerns about the novel coronavirus, and support for a fully virtual reopening. 

Superintendent Jason Kamras also announced his administration’s support for the fully virtual option after “enormous reflection and listening and reading and grappling with all the community feedback.” 

Gregory Muzik, principal at Richmond’s Mary Munford Elementary School, was among those who voiced support for the virtual option. He got COVID himself in late May, and passed it on to his wife who he says is still recovering after 14 days in critical care.

“This is a dangerous disease,” Muzik wrote to the school board. “While there is some evidence that kids are less likely to catch the virus and less likely to spread it, it’s not clear exactly how strong that evidence is. Much of it was generated at a time when children were highly restricted from school, friends, church and other activities.”

Muzik also pointed to a “great deal of fear and stress” among staff about the idea of resuming in-person instruction. He said some teachers have told him they’d retire, and one already resigned. 

Others like teacher Morgan Colleton wrote not only about safety concerns, but also about the logistics of a hybrid in-person/remote learning situation that she said would stretch teachers too thin. 

“I feel that it is best for all students and teachers to be using similar if not the same platforms,” Colleton said. “We can’t expect effective planning and instruction to happen if our teachers are being asked to accommodate three different settings for the school day.”

Board members like Scott Barlow also expressed concerns about the district’s ability to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak, should schools resume in-person instruction in the fall.

“There are just too many unknowns for me to support an in-person option,” Barlow said Tuesday night. “I think we can always work to improve the educational achievement of our students, we can certainly work with families and our kids to help address their social and emotional needs. But we cannot guarantee that we won't have an outbreak in our schools and we cannot guarantee that we can stop an asymptomatic spread or symptomatic spread. And we cannot reverse the impacts of a student or teacher being infected, or a student or teacher being placed on a ventilator.” 

Board member Dawn Page said she’s hopeful virtual instruction will work for students and teachers, with additional accountability in place to ensure students are engaged in remote learning. 

“We all want our children back in school, but we want them to be safe. And we want our faculty and our staff and our families to be safe as well,” Page said. “The last thing that we want to say is that we’re sorry.” 

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said Tuesday that teachers will be live online with students when classes resume after Labor Day, on September 8. 

The district will continue to present updates about the status of remote instruction and plans for an eventual in-person return at all upcoming school board meetings. The school board meets next on Monday, July 20.

 

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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