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Chesterfield County Board Seeks Answers on School Reopening

Crixell Matthews
Chesterfield Schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty tells the Board of Supervisors how virtual schools will look and answers money questions brought up at the School Board’s recent meeting. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Just one day after ushering in a vote to send children back to school virtually in the fall, the Superintendent of Chesterfield County Public Schools answered questions from the Board of Supervisors on what that will look like and on how that decision was made.

In a speech that lasted for almost an hour, Superintendent Merv Daugherty stressed several times that the goal of the district is to get children back in class safely. However, since the school board voted to have remote learning, the district was preparing to make online classes as normal as possible.

“You will have your classwork. You will have homework. You will have grading. We will be taking attendance. We will be calling students that are not in attendance that day,” Daugherty said.

He added that middle and high school students will still follow their traditional schedule of having a total of four classes per day. 

The superintendent said that there are enough Chromebooks now for all K-12 students, thanks to $300,000 of private funding. He said Comcast will provide free internet access, to anyone who does not have it, through a program paid for by the Chesterfield Education Foundation. 

“So the obstacles for parents are out of the way. They just have to say they want the internet,” Daugherty said.

He added that for areas in which Comcast is not available, the district will be providing internet hotspots.

But part of the ‘new normal’ will mean some students have to give up school sports. Daugherty said he doesn’t see those returning until December and possibly as late as January.

As it stands right now, school district documents show teachers will be required to teach their virtual classes from school. However, how that will work for teachers who want to or need to work from home, for issues of childcare or for health reasons, is still up in the air. 

Some Students Could be Returning to In-Person Classes in September.

Though he didn't give any specifics, the superintendent did say the district is looking at ways for all Special Education students, students with disabilities and English Language Learners to return in person sooner than later. 

“All of this, as you well know, is extremely complicated. But we are working to do the best we can for our students and families,”  Daugherty said.

Daugherty said he and his staff are working on creating videos on how a typical school day will look once students are allowed back in the buildings. He said they’ll be videos on how to ride the bus wearing a mask, how to walk in the building wearing a mask and how to be in the classroom. 

“We do realize that schools help push the economy.” - Merv Daugherty

Why Virtual

To back up the virtual classes vote, Daugherty said that with 63,000 students, putting things such as plexiglass barriers up between children “would be impossible. When you think about six foot or even three foot barriers all over our schools,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty said the guidelines coming down from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control were changing rapidly. 

“They keep moving the needle,” Daugherty said.

He says he’s waiting for Gov. Ralph Northam to approve a COVID-19 dashboard that has more local information. He added that in the next couple of weeks, their decision to go virtual will either be proven right or wrong based on metrics handed down from the health departments. 

“And that’s something I’m going to have to live with,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty said he doesn’t want to reopen schools when a spike may happen, then have to close again right away. He added that if the COVID-19 metrics change, school operations could, too. He said, unlike other districts such as Richmond, the school board requested that Daugherty come back with monthly updates on reopening safety. 

“If the school board in August or September were to say we should come back to school in this manner, it could be the hybrid model, it could say we think we can open up,” Daugherty said.

The Chesterfield School Board will lay out more details about the fall semester at its meeting on August 11th.


Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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