Richmond, Va. (WRIC) — The Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools is casting doubt on RPS reopening for in-person learning in March after Gov. Ralph Northam requested all school districts return to the classroom by March 15.
Yet, Superintendent Jason Kamras said, “I continue to have significant concerns about reopening at this time.”
For starters, he said staff at RPS is 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.
Kamras confirmed Tuesday that only a third of RPS staff members have gotten a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. He said, “That’s mostly frontline workers, nutrition workers, transportation team that have received their first dose, not even their second dose yet.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said his take wasn’t much different than Kamras. He said, “As of today, I know they are not all ready.”
Stoney went on Tuesday to tell reporters during a weekly Richmond city update that he understands we all want our kids back in school. Yet, he said Richmond needs to be safe about it as some of the facilities need upgrades.
Kamras explained, “We are working on that improving air quality, finishing our bathroom blitz and many other projects of that nature but we had expected to open in late Summer not this Spring.”
The Superintendent also pointed out that RPS is using their buses to deliver food which would make it difficult to provide bus transportation to students.
He also said he worries shaking up things now could hurt the bond students and teachers have already formed. “Unfortunately opening up in person would cause us to have to change our classroom rosters and potentially break many of those bonds,” said Kamras.
The Richmond Superintendent said he will look at the possibility of supporting their most vulnerable learners in-person on a voluntary basis. He plans to discuss it all with the Richmond School Board.
During an Richmond School Board meeting on Tuesday evening, board members further discussed what to do about the governor’s call for schools to return in-person.
“I feel very strongly that this is bad timing being on the cusp where it will be safe to be back at school soon, but we are not there yet,” said school board member Kenya Gibson.
Johnathon Young, a school board member in favor of the return to in-person learning stated during the meeting that if school districts in New York City and Chicago could resume face-to-face classes so could Richmond.
School board member Mariah White voiced concerns about whether or not schools would have enough things like plexiglass and hand sanitizing stands for teachers and students to return. Kamras says RPS has PPE for the schools that was ordered over the summer when it seemed more likely that students would return to the classroom.
However, the district does not have an any quality enhancement supplies yet. A portion of the meeting was spent discussing HVAC upgrades and the installation of a $6 million air filtration system. The filtration system uses bipolar ionization to help lessen the spread of COVID-19 as well as other viruses, mold spores and bacteria.
Another major concern at the meeting was a lack of custodial staff for RPS schools. Right now the district needs at least 17 more staff members to help keep the schools clean and in good shape.