Public schools in Richmond, Virginia, will not reopen their doors this fall following a decision from the Richmond School Board, which voted to kick off the year with an entirely virtual experience for students.
The Richmond School Board voted 8-1 against beginning the 2020-2021 academic year with in-person learning in school facilities. The board had a variety of plans to choose from, ranging from a “hybrid” option — allowing students to receive two days of in-person learning with three days of virtual school — to giving parents the choice between a full virtual option or full in-person option.
One plan proposed would have had students with “high needs” only returning to school facilities. Another would have had elementary students attending school and middle and high school students doing so virtually.
Despite the plethora of options, the school board opted to shut down in-person learning altogether. According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch:
The Richmond Education Association had called for 100% virtual instruction. The teachers group detailed its position in a letter last week drawing attention to poor air quality and open classroom designs that the group feared would put students and staff at greater risk.
In the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Readiness and Planning” tool for K-12, the Richmond Public Schools reopening scenario fell under its “more risk” category for the spread of the coronavirus. It calls for 6 feet of social distancing, mask wearing for all students and staff, and consistent handwashing.
“It’s tough knowing that virtual instruction does not replace the work that our teachers can do with our students in the building,” said school board member Scott Barlow, according to the Dispatch. “It’s pretty well-documented that having students out of the classroom for a period of time is not good for their educational development.”
Barlow appeared to suggest that there was no clear answer, as the decision affects students in different ways for a variety of reasons.
“No matter which option we choose, a certain number of our students are more likely to have an adverse impact,” he explained. “Our Black and Latino students are more likely to suffer from infection risks. Many of our higher-poverty students are more likely to be adversely impacted by not being able to go to school, and there’s overlap between those two groups.”
Jonathan Young, the only school board member to oppose the measure, warned of remaining “naive about the limitations of virtual learning.”
“I really am so concerned for our kids and for the future. We have to acknowledge all of the threats and try to account for differences in science,” he said.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced last week that schools would not be able to reopen if Virginia cannot remain in Phase Three of reopening.
“If we’re going to get our kids back in school, we need to do it safely,” he said. “It’s not only the children in schools, it’s the teachers and staff that could contract this, and the point I would make is if our teachers and staff can’t stay healthy and contract the virus, then all is moot.”
“I want as much as anybody to get our kids back in school, but if our numbers don’t stay where they are, if we aren’t able to stay in Phase Three, then we’re not going to be able to move forward with that,” he added.
The Trump administration has emphasized the importance of schools reopening for in-person learning — a call backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
While some officials, like those in Florida, have established their intention of getting kids back in physical schools in the fall, other areas are forging a different path. On Monday, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that in-person learning would not resume in the fall.
“The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise,” he said.