Richmond Public Schools (RPS) will continue with virtual learning only for the rest of the 2020-21 academic year.
During a Monday night meeting, the RPS School Board voted 8-1 to keep students away from the classroom for another several months after Superintendent Jason Kamras gave a presentation and recommended the school district remain virtual.
“The administration’s recommendation is that we remain fully virtual for the second semester for three reasons,” Kamras said during the meeting. “First, the rapidly rising infection rates. Second, based on the feedback from our teachers and families, and third, because of some unintended consequences that would exacerbate inequalities if we did some back in-person.”
“This is one of the most heartbreaking recommendations I have ever made to you, likely ever will make,” Kamras added. “I live for being with and around kids, and the thought of proactively recommending to you that we not do that for another several months is heartbreaking. I don’t do it lightly, but I do it because I believe our number one responsibility is protecting the health and safety of our students, families and staff.”
In explaining his second reason, Kamras discussed the results of a survey sent out to school staff and families about the second semester where the majority of respondents indicated a desire to remain fully virtual. In a RPS direct newsletter last Thursday, Kamras reported that the survey received 10,000 respondents, and 80 percent of staff as well as 63 percent of families supported keeping virtual instruction.
Nevertheless, Kamras did admit in his presentation that virtual learning does come with downsides and can have long-term consequences for certain students.
Almost every school board member was in support of Kamras’ recommendation, but some made additional comments on the matter during the meeting.
Elizabeth Doerr (1st District) said she did not want to “underestimate some of the very real mental health and other impacts, especially to those families that have children with special needs,” virtual learning can bring, while Kenya Gibson (3rd District) requested the board to consider revisiting the topic again in early March and also think about how summer school will operate at that time.
The only member to vote against Kamras’ recommendation was Jonathan Young (4th District).
During discussions, Young proposed his own idea for a hybrid instruction model for students with learning disabilities being taught in-person four days a week and virtual for one day. Under Young’s plan teachers would voluntarily opt-in to teaching in-person and would choose to conduct that assignment at one of 13 select RPS schools.
Young’s proposal failed when it was not seconded by any other school board member.
With the decision now made, RPS students will have to spend about 12 calendar months respectively, spanning from last March to June of 2021, learning from behind a screen and potentially missing out on valuable education only attainable by being physically present.
Virginia State Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) described RPS students not being in a classroom for a year as “deeply concerning” and said she thinks all public schools in Virginia should be offering both in-person and virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
“All the things that schools provide beyond curriculum for our children, they do not get if they are not there,” Dunnavant told The Virginia Star. “For kids and teachers that have health risks, virtual is completely appropriate and really works. But for a lot of kids, it’s not working and we know that because we’ve seen the increased rate of failure in kids, and we have reading and math benchmarks we’re concerned about.
“We need to make sure that our kids have a chance at a future and in order to get that you have to have an education that is sound.”
The Star reached out to Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond City) for comment on the RPS decision and potential impact on students’ education, but did not get a response before press time.
RPS students will begin their second semester on February 8.
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