UPDATE: Richmond Public School Board votes to stay virtual for second semester

Education

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools will continue with virtual learning during the second semester.

A majority of school board members voted to sustain the school system’s fully virtual learning format. The vote was 8-1, with only school board member Johnathan Young voting against the decision.

Young had made a motion to amend Kamras’ fully virtual plan but the motion was not seconded.

Students will begin their second semester on Feb. 8.

A student at tonight’s school board meeting quickly reflected on her education experience this year. Senior Jayla Townes was recognized tonight for her extracurricular involvement. She said, “it’s often said that senior year is supposed to be one of the best times of your life, and although I can only speak for myself I’m sure my fellow classmates will agree that this has not been the case.”

Could things change again?

Even though Young’s proposal failed, Board Chair Linda Owen said that his proposal is something he could consider with the incoming school board.

Board member Kenya Gibson requested the board consider to revisit the fully virtual format in early March to consider where RPS will be for summer school. Gibson made this recommendation, but no motion to commit to this was made.

What were the second semester proposals?

Last week, RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said he will recommend that the district remain virtual citing concerns for the health and safety of students, staff, and families.

Kamras said that three factors influenced his decision.

First the city’s rising infection rate.

According to the Virginia Department of Health’s school metrics, the City of Richmond is in the highest risk category for one of three core indicators used by schools when considering a return to in-person learning.

The superintendent also said that a clear majority of teachers and families have expressed desire to continue virtual learning.

Nearly 10,000 families and staff responded to surveys about the second semester. Eighty-percent of staff and families selected the option for all students to remain virtual.

The survey had an 80% response rate among staff and 25% response rate among RPS families. Kamras says that is at least 5,000 families which is the highest volume of survey response RPS has ever seen.

Lastly, Kamras said that opening schools would have consequences that would exacerbate existing inequities. With the entire bus fleet being used for meal deliveries, only families with the ability to provide transportation would be able to get to school for in-person learning. Class roasters would also need to change causing a significant number of students that would end up with new teachers.

“Breaking the student-teacher bond would be harmful to all students, but it would be particularly so for those facing additional challenges given their life circumstances,” Kamras wrote.

Though he plans to make the recommendation to remain virtual, Kamras does acknowledge the challenges that come with virtual learning.

“First, while this approach is working well for many students, it is not for others,” Kamras said in the update. “The long-term academic and social-emotional impacts for these young people are likely to be significant. Second, home is unfortunately not always the safest place for some students. An additional virtual semester will only exacerbate this reality. And third, staying remote means that many working families will continue to struggle with balancing their jobs and childcare.”

Following Kamras’ announcement, 4th District School Board Representative Jonathan Young said he would introduce a reopening proposal at Monday night’s meeting.

Young said his proposal “prioritizes the wishes of any teacher/staff along with families to stay virtual for the balance of the academic year.”

Young proposes that students with learning disabilities attend in-person instruction starting March 1st. The school week would consist of four days in person and one virtual day.

Here are the points in his proposal:

1) Effective March 1st,
2) teachers may on their own volition opt-in to teach in-person
3) contingent on an adequate number of students with learning disabilities requesting in-person learning.
4) Teachers will choose a temporary faculty assignment for the balance of the 20-21 academic year at one of thirteen K-12 school campuses.
5) Facilities will be limited to Huguenot High School, Boushall Middle School, Lucille Brown Middle School, Martin Luther King Middle School, River City Middle School, Blackwell Elementary School, Broad Rock Elementary School, Cardinal Elementary School, Henry Marsh Elementary School, Miles Jones Elementary School, Linwood Holton Elementary School, Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School, and Overby Sheppard Elementary School.
6) Each of the preceding facilities will open subsequent installation of bipolar ionization at the site along with renovation of bathroom facilities on-site as identified in the November 16, 2020 report.
7) For students with learning disabilities that opt-in to in-person learning, the schedule shall be comprised of four days a week in-person and one day a week virtual.

The school board meeting is Monday, December 7 at 6 p.m. You can watch it live on RPS Facebook page.

What about next year?

During the school board meeting on Monday night, Kamras said school officials are in talks to modify the calendar for next school year. One of the options on the table is a possible year-round calendar or adjusted year-round calendar to make up for the downsides of remote learning during the pandemic.

Kamras says they are “really putting everything on the table to make sure that we really are radical and bold in our approach, once we do come back fully in-person.”

No official decisions have been made on the 2021-2022 calendar yet.

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