As new cases of the novel coronavirus pop up each day, it’s become increasingly difficult for area schools to decide how and when to reopen. And after over five hours of discussion and debate on Monday night, the Charlottesville School Board got no closer to a definite answer.
Last week, the district rolled out a proposal for reopening, which would send students in kindergarten through sixth grade to school for in-person classes—with social distancing guidelines and safety measures—four times a week. Seventh through 12th graders would be split into two groups and alternate between in-person and virtual classes throughout the week, but would work from home on Fridays. All students could opt in to online-only learning, ahead of September 8, the first day of school.
“I believe that people will get sick,” said Tess Krovetz, a second grade teacher at Jackson-Via Elementary. “Right now we can say with some confidence that COVID-19 does not affect children the same way it affects adults. But that’s because for the most part since March we’ve kept our children home and safe. Sending them back to school is a science experiment that can—and will—lead to trauma and loss.”
Krovetz and kindergarten teacher Shannon Gillikin penned an open letter to Superintendent Rosa Atkins and the school board in support of a virtual reopening, citing case spikes due to the state reopening, among many other concerns. To date, more than 150 staff members from across the district have signed it.
Instead of putting a large amount of time and effort into planning for in-person classes, they encouraged the board to focus on training teachers and parents for equitable distance learning.
Lashundra Bryson Morsberger was the only board member who fully supported an all-digital reopening. She believes there are “too many unknowns” about the virus, and that the community isn’t safe enough for in-person classes. She also thinks the proposed plan spreads staff too thin and does not adequately address concerns about contracting the virus, which could put them out of work “for months,” making it even more difficult to implement distance learning if schools had to shut down.
“We need to take this time to do the best plan that we can for virtual learning, instead of losing time now talking about a plan that probably in September will just be a distant memory,” she said.
Last week, more than 70 parents signed an open letter to the school district, asking for it to offer in-person classes five days a week.
Multiple speakers during public comment were strongly in favor of face-to-face classes, particularly for younger students, mentioning the equity and learning gaps exacerbated by distance learning in the spring. A significant number of parents in the district are unable to work from home, they said, and would be forced to find child care, which could lead to more risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
The board will make its final decision on either July 23 or 30.
“No matter what we do, we’re going to have someone upset with us,” concluded board member Juandiego Wade.