Richmond School Board discusses reopening plans for fall

New health guidelines released

RPS discusses reopening plans

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - If Richmond students return to the classroom this fall, it would cost millions of dollars to make sure it happens safely.

RPS School Board Meeting - July 9, 2020

The RPS School Board will hold an all-virtual meeting on Thursday, July 9, 2020 at 6:00 pm. The meeting will be streamed via the RPS Facebook page at Richmond Public Schools and the meeting agenda is posted on BoardDocs at https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/richmond/Board.nsf Spanish interpretation will be provided live via Zoom at https://zoom.us/j/93552984005 Public comments for the School Board will be accepted via email at speakers@rvaschools.net until 1 :00 pm, Thursday, July 9, 2020

Posted by Richmond Public Schools on Thursday, July 9, 2020

School leaders held a virtual meeting Thursday to discuss options for re-opening schools in this new age of coronavirus.

Some teachers say they don’t feel they should have to return to the classroom. They just don’t want to risk it. That’s why the Superintendent is presenting different options, some involving virtual instruction. Others involve a mix of in-class and at-home learning, but there are a whole lot of factors to consider.

If Richmond students return to class this fall, what should that look like? To answer that, school officials invited local health leaders to a Zoom meeting to look at the data.

“The data would suggest that we should’ve opened up schools before we opened up bars,” said Dr. Romesh Wijesooriya of VCU Health.

Doctors from VCU Health and the Richmond Health Department were on hand, telling school board members schools wouldn’t appear to be a major source of spreading coronavirus into the community. In fact, they say, only some 300 children and teenagers have made up Virginia’s 67,000 COVID-19 cases, and very rarely are children sent to the hospital for it. Researchers say children are less likely to contract the virus but that raises another point.

“The risk to teachers is actually where we need to focus and be thoughtful and careful when we’re discussing re-opening schools, and how we want to do that,” Wijesooriya added. Especially, doctors say, since adults with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity or asthma are at high risk.

Thursday, Richmond teachers penned a letter to school leaders saying there should be no controversy about it. Returning to school during a pandemic, they say, shouldn’t be an option due to safety. The Richmond Education Association supports a virtual option instead.

“I’m hearing from [teachers], especially those who have younger children at home or are taking care of older adults at home, they’re scared,” School Board Member Cheryl Burke said

It would cost $2.2 million to deep clean schools, buy cleaning supplies and air purifiers. $1.2 million would be needed to make sure hand sanitizing stations are at all schools. Then there are another million dollars needed to bring on additional nurses and to get them additional training.

If schools re-open, RPS would purchase 60 temperature scanners. Each school would have one and large schools would have two. Students would walk through the devices that can scan 70 people per minute. They would cost $180,000.

All meals would be eaten in classrooms to keep students from congregating in the cafeteria. All water fountains would be turned off. There would be water fill-up stations available, where you don’t put your mouth next to it, for cups and bottles.

Health officials have also released new guidelines to the school district once it reopens.

The new guidelines include:

  • People stay six feet apart, three feet apart with face coverings
  • A limited number of students on buses, including during extracurricular activities and sports
  • No gatherings of more than 50 people

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras will be presented two reopening plans to the school board on July 9.

Plan A

  • A fully virtual option PLUS
  • A hybrid option that includes 2 days of in-person instruction and 3 days of virtual instruction each week PLUS
  • 5 days of in-person instruction each week for students with greater academic needs (e.g., certain students with IEPs and certain English Learners)

Plan B

  • A fully virtual option PLUS
  • A fully in-person option

Superintendent Kamras said Plan B is now possible because the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education just released guidance that allows schools to use three feet for physical distancing (instead of six) as long as everyone is wearing masks.

That means RPS could potentially bring back all families who did not want the fully virtual option.

The board has not yet voted on a decision.

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