‘We have to ensure their safety’: Petersburg Superintendent says back-to-school options include virtual learning

Petersburg Superintendent says back-to-school options include virtual learning

PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - Central Virginia school districts are finalizing plans on whether to re-open in the fall and there are some pretty serious challenges to consider. In Petersburg, one of them is transportation and whether the need for social distancing would lead to a series of drastic and costly changes.

Petersburg’s School Superintendent has been on the job a little more than a year now. Her first priority was to crack down on students skipping school. Her new immediate priority is planning what re-opening will look like, if at all.

“We have to ensure their safety. We have to work on cleanliness. We have to do a lot of training with our students about cleanliness and washing of the hands,” Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin said.

It's a new day for schools faced with the challenge of continuing instruction during a pandemic.

“We would not have 100% of our students back in our schools on any given day,” Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin said.

Dr. Pitre-Martin plans to present two options to the school board next week - either going completely virtual in the fall or a combination of in-person and at-home learning.

If leaders move forward with the former, transportation could be a concern.

“What does that look like on a bus where usually you could get 65 {or} probably 70 of your elementary students but with social distancing were looking at 10, 15, or only 20 people being on that bus? What does that route look like? Do you do double backs, which means it takes longer to get students from that area to school, which then changes the start time?” she asked.

In September, Petersburg High School is expected to open a brand new health clinic on campus. It's a partnership with Central Virginia Health Services.

“If we go face to face, we have to have more healthcare providers in the school because we may have to do health screenings at the school {and} temperature checks at the school,” she said pointing to a project that began prior to the pandemic. It would prove to be even more beneficial if the school re-opens.

Funding to stay a float remains a concern with dwindling sales tax dollars coming in. The school district just saw $1.9 million in cuts to the budget. Fortunately, the Federal Cares Act gave a $2.5 million boost to help Petersburg Schools. “It has been essential to us being able to do any work as we were moving forward,” Pitre-Martin said. That money could be used to hire extra staff and for cleaning supplies.

If schools go completely virtual, Petersburg will need to make sure students in grades Pre-K through First grades have Chromebooks. Right now, only older students have them.

The school board will meet Wednesday to discuss how it will move forward.

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