Henrico School Board approves virtual start for 2020-21 academic year

Henrico County

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Henrico County’s school board unanimously voted for a virtual start for the first nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year.

Limited personal instruction will be made available for a select group of students. The school year begins Sept. 8.

The announcement comes after school board members commenced to vote on reopening plans at the New Bridge Learning Center Thursday. The meeting started at noon with a public comments section that lasted an hour. After six hours, the school board approved Superintendent Amy Cashwell’s recommendation to go virtual for the first nine weeks of the fall.

Teacher Christine Suders says it the right move because getting students to wear masks for eight hours and social distancing in the classroom isn’t logical.

“The issue is that normally failing to follow directions wouldn’t be a big deal. It would just be a minor discipline issue, but now a matter of not wearing a mask or social distancing could be life or death,” said the Hermitage High School teacher.

Mark Levaine is a bus driver who says he wants to greet students on board again.

“A lot of drivers that I’ve talked to want to go back to work. We’re scared that we’re going to get furloughed and can’t afford it,” Levaine said. “This is the only job we have.”

One rising sixth grader says he’s eager to experience middle school the “typical way.”

“Online classes don’t work nearly as well as they did in person,” he said. “I got a lot less done and we can’t interact with our teachers nearly as well.”

Dr. Cashwell released the following statement after virtual learning was approved for the fall:

“In making the decision to begin the year with a fully virtual school day, we asked and were asked a thousand important questions,” Dr. Cashwell said. “However, in the end, we had to focus on just one: Right now, based on the information we have today, our expertise and our best efforts, can we assure our staff members and families that returning to school in person will be safe and healthy? Until we can answer that question with confidence, your School Board and I believe that a fully virtual school day is the most feasible way to engage our students while prioritizing student, staff and community safety.”

Other points that emerged from the meeting:

  • No Henrico Schools’ employees will be furloughed. HCPS will keep employees at work, although in some cases roles may be slightly adjusted to best meet students’ needs.
  • Teachers will have the option to teach virtual lessons from their school classrooms.
  • Virtual learning does not mean students and teachers have to be in front of their screens all day, every day. Teaching material can take on different forms, such as independent work and projects.
  • Whether instruction is fully virtual or in person, the school division will continue to have high expectations for all students.

The district’s decision to go virtual comes as other districts across Central Virginia commit to remote learning.

At Wednesday night’s school board meeting, the Petersburg school board unanimously voted on a virtual return for the upcoming school year.

Earlier this week, the Chesterfield County school board also voted on a virtual return.

Last week, Richmond Public Schools committed to a virtual return as well.


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