Back to school? Richmond Public Schools superintendent to outline in-person learning options for spring today


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras is expected to introduce a new plan regarding in-person learning today, an RPS school board member told 8News.

Governor Ralph Northam recently directed all Virginia school districts to offer some type of in-person learning by March 15.

“Today you’re going to see an amended proposal that is a little bit more robust,” the school board member said.

At some point today, Kamras is expected to introduce a plan that would allow more students back into classrooms than was previously announced, according to the school board member. 

On February 16, Kamras outlined a plan that would allow about 100 students back into classrooms sometime after spring break. Those would be English language learners and students in special education courses. Moving back into classrooms would be “completely voluntary” for students and teachers, according to the district. Spring break is the week of April 5.

Kamras’ proposal Friday would “increase the number substantially,” according to the school board member. However, “it’s still very modest,” the member said. It’s not yet clear who would be allowed back in classrooms or when.

Earlier this month, Kamras cast doubt on RPS reopening for in-person learning in March. “I continue to have significant concerns about reopening at this time,” he said in early February.

“We recognize that our most vulnerable students have found virtual instruction to be particularly challenging. Moreover, we believe we can address many, if not all, of the issues listed above with a very small group of high-need students,” Kamras said in the February 16 proposal to the school board.

In explaining his hesitation to send a large number of students back, he pointed to four main reasons. First, a winter survey that showed an overwhelming majority of RPS families and teachers indicated they wanted to remain virtual.

“Of note, the percentage wishing to stay the course was highest among RPS families of color,” he said in the February 16 proposal.

Second, he said RPS facilities do not yet have the air quality upgrades that are critical for reopening. Some teachers have recently told 8News that the air quality in many RPS buildings is their largest concern.

“I would love to stay virtual,” said Kaiesha King, an RPS 3rd grade special education teacher. King has worked at Woodville Elementary School for ten years.

“I would get upper respiratory infections three times a year,” she said. “Since we’ve been virtual, I have not had one upper respiratory infection at all.”

“Once the School Board approves our federal stimulus plan – which includes millions for air quality improvements – we’ll submit it to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) for approval. Please note that completion of the work will take several months,” Kamras said.

“That’s honestly the only reason why I wouldn’t just say open them [schools] up,” King told 8News Friday.

Kamras’ third reason was that a major reopening would require the district to break up classes, reassigning students to different teachers based on whether they intended to come back or not.

“This would sever thousands of teacher-student bonds, precisely at a time when those relationships are most critical.”

His fourth reason outlines concerns over transportation. “Since we would need to continue using the vast majority of our bus fleet for food distribution (for the many students who would remain virtual), providing socially distanced transportation for in-person instruction would not be possible,” Kamras said.

As of mid-February, about 30 percent of RPS staff had at least their first vaccine shots. Kamras said then that RPS staff was far from being fully vaccinated. “I can’t say for certain when we will cross that threshold when all of our teachers, all of our staff will be fully vaccinated. I think it’s very likely that it won’t be by March 15th,” said Kamras.

According to a post on the district’s website, teachers who got their first doses in mid-February should be set to get their second shots on March 13. 

8News has asked RPS for an update on vaccination numbers and is awaiting a response.

The school board will ultimately cast the final vote on the superintendent’s proposals. Currently, RPS is one of two school districts in the state with no definitive plans for in-person learning.

8News will be following this story on-air and online. Stay with us for the latest updates.

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