Henrico leaders say survey results show more than 50% of staff, parents comfortable with reopening schools

Updated: Jul. 14, 2020 at 10:38 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County School leaders say the results of a survey addressing options to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic show that more than 50 percent are comfortable with reopening schools.

Board members gathered in the auditorium of Glen Allen High School at 7 p.m. to share data and also hear from community members, families and faculty about any concerns they have.

Only 250 people total, including board members, were permitted for the meeting in-person due to social distancing guidelines outlined by the state.

Meanwhile, dozens of Henrico County teachers gathered outside the school ahead of that meeting for a car rally to share their concerns about reopening with in-person classes.

“We would like the health and safety of students and staff to be the priority when we think about reopening the schools,” said Ryan Burgess, a Highland Springs High School teacher.

Burgess is just one of nearly 3,000 members of the group “HCPS Back to School Safely” who organized the car rally Tuesday ahead of the meeting.

“Some people did not feel safe going… into the meeting, so we wanted to provide an option for those who didn’t want to do into the meeting [with a way] to express their voices and opinions outside,” she said.

The group has varying thoughts on the plans to reopen Henrico County Schools.

“Most of our members are really in favor of a virtual reopening,” Burgess said. “However we do have a group of members who also would like the option of a hybrid opening.”

“Our teachers and our staff members have a lot of concerns about what they feel would be the health and wellness of this work environment once the school reopens,” said HCPS spokesman Andy Jenks. “They’re working very diligently to make sure those opinions are heard.”

Henrico leaders said during the meeting that if schools reopen, teachers and staff who contract COVID-19 will be provided with a hotel where they can stay free of charge to quarantine.

At the end of June, HCPS released a survey to the community and families seeking input on back to school options. On Tuesday, Jenks said that survey garnered more than 19,000 responses.

According to the survey results released Tuesday evening, more than 50 percent of staff and parents say they would feel comfortable reopening schools.

School leaders are considering one option called hybrid learning, where one group of students learn in class while another learns at home. Both groups would swap throughout the term.

Then there’s parallel learning, which gives parents the option to have their child learn at home 100 percent of the time.

“We are considering all angles and each of the approaches I have mentioned to reopening come with challenges,” Superintendent Amy Cashwell said.

During the meeting, it was discussed that masks would be required for teachers and students, and the use of common space would be limited if schools open.

“I am a former teacher who knows how valuable in-person instruction is and who realizes that just getting our kids in the building doesn’t mean normal school,” board member Marcie F. Shea said.

Meanwhile, there are groups, like “Choices for Virginia Schools,” which feel students should be back in the classroom five days a week citing the state health data.

As of Tuesday, the data shows the number of COVID-19 cases involving children under the age of 19 makes up less than 11% of the total cases statewide.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about this virus and we prefer to act on the side of caution,” Burgess rebutted.

“The common ground is all of us want the same thing - eventually for the safe five-day full-time return to school for all of our students and staff,” Jenks said. “But the question is, how do we get there?

Henrico leaders will come back on July 23 for a final vote on what reopening will look like come September.

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