RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A majority of Richmond area public school districts will start the year virtually but some parents are scrambling to find other options. 8News is finding that many private schools in our area are filling up.
The school districts planning to start virtually are planning to re-evaluate COVID levels after nine weeks.
Meanwhile, many private institutions are planning to create as close to a “normal” school year as the schools safely can. “Our plan is in person, five days a week instruction,” said Dr. Tom Burkett, the head of Banner Christian School in north Chesterfield.
Private school leaders like Burkett told 8News that a wait list has started for some lower grades. “It’s not just Banner. I think all the private schools are getting inundated with phone calls right now,” he said. Burkett told 8News that applications have been flooding in.
“We literally had two people answering phones. They would hang up and pick back up, hang up and pick back up,” Burkett said. “Enrollment has obviously shot through the roof,” he said, “but we’re still opening with applications. We still have some opportunities.”
Though the school’s plan hasn’t been finalized, Burkett said the school will be taking several safety precautions, like requiring teachers wear face shields. 8News asked why the plan isn’t to require teachers to wear face coverings. He said teachers and faculty can wear face coverings if they choose and said Plexiglas separations will be installed in classrooms with younger children. He added that younger students will probably not be required to wear a mask while at their desks but students in grades 6-12 will likely be wearing them the entire school day. Burkett told 8News when young students are wearing masks, they will be at least three feet away from each other, per CDC guidelines.
“We absolutely believe this is the best for their education opportunities as well as the families,” he said. Burkett added officials will also be working to develop a different way of dropping children off at school and picking them up.
Amy Kenyon is a working mother in Henrico and leaving public schooling for private. “I understand people’s concerns, but at some point, we have to get back to work,” she told 8News on Tuesday.
The mother said virtual instruction didn’t work for her 10-year-old son last spring. He attended Henrico County Public Schools since kindergarten but when tensions heightened surrounding in-person versus virtual instruction, Kenyon said she began looking into private schools in the area. She enrolled her son at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic school.
The school board decided to start the year virtually last week. “I was freaking out,” Kenyon said.
Kenyon said the cost of private school hadn’t been budgeted for. She said it will cost her family roughly $10,000 for the year but said she’s thankful that Our Lady of Lourdes is offering a payment plan. “My husband is a general contractor. He owns a contracting business so he’ll do another deck, he’ll do another addition.”
Burkett said exactly how the school year will look hasn’t been finalized. Private schools have to submit a safety plan to the Virginia Council for Private Education before the year starts. Burkett said school officials have been and will continue to be working closely with the health department as well. According to the school’s website, tuition starts at $10,450 per year for each student.
St. Christopher’s, a private all-boys school in Richmond is also planning to start the year with five-day in person instruction. In an email to 8News reporter Alex Thorson, spokesperson Sharon Dion said “enrollment continues to be fluid as we work with families inquiring about St. Christopher’s, but we are seeing an uptick in enrollment in many grade levels.”
Dion said most grades are full and are on a waitlist, adding that limited spots remain in 2nd and 5th grades.
The school’s administration also hasn’t released their finalized plan for the year yet. The spokesperson told 8News they plan to release it at the end of the week. “We are following recommended reopening guidelines from the CDC, Virginia Department of Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.” In the email, Dion said every student and employee will be required to perform a daily health screen before coming to school each day. “Temperature screenings will be conducted every morning before allowing a boy to enter campus so that we can establish the healthiest environment possible.”
“Every boy in Grades JK-12 and every employee will be wearing face coverings, as a recommended risk mitigation measure by both the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). The School will provide two face coverings for each boy and employee,” she said. Visitors will also be limited on campus, as well as frequent cleaning.
In our area, Goochland and Amelia counties are planning to start the year with some in-person instruction.