RPS changes course on vaccine mandate, discovers large number of students performing below grade level

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 11:34 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2021 at 11:35 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - After several Richmond teachers began stepping down, the district decided to change course on its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Leaders say now is not the time to lose staff because student performance seems to be going in the wrong direction. New test scores are shedding light on how the pandemic and virtual learning impacted student achievement.

New data shows only 3% of 3rd graders are on grade level when it comes to math. Some school administrators say it shows learning at home took a toll on Richmond students.

When students were tested during the first couple of weeks of school, only 4% of 8th graders were on grade level for math. Only 18% of 3rd graders are considered to be proficient in reading.

On top of that, there are disturbing trends for minority students who are significantly lagging behind their counterparts.

At one point, school board members wanted to know what district staff has been doing to prevent these outcomes.

“We extended summer school. We had a long summer school and we quadrupled the number of students receiving summer school this year. We launched a comprehensive curriculum in ELA that reflects the national reading panel’s research on the key components of literacy instruction.

We launched a literacy institute where we trained 200 elementary staff members in the science of reading. We launched a comprehensive extended day effort that still needs much, much more work,” said Dr. Tracy Epp.

“I want to be clear, it is going to take years for us to climb out of the effects of the pandemic. We were already facing an uphill battle, one I continue to believe we can overcome,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said.

District leaders say they are awaiting more federal stimulus dollars which they will use to continue providing more services to get students up to par. Leaders remind in 2019 students missed a quarter of instruction due to the start of the pandemic, and after the students were forced to go virtual.

“We can only blame so much on the pandemic, we have to take some accountability ourselves,” Board Member Kenya Gibson said.

Board President Cheryl Burke chimed in saying this is not a reflection of the hard work teachers are putting in each day. “We have no choice but to move up,” she said.

RPS is now changing course on its brand new COVID-19 vaccine policy after finding out dozens of school staff were willing to step down if forced to get a shot. The board initially voted to require vaccines for all school staff. Those who failed to comply saw their pay docked.

Those who still didn’t get a shot after that would’ve been at risk of losing their jobs. Twenty-nine school staff members submitted their resignations as a result.

Monday, some board members said they didn’t know those would be the penalties so the board voted not to dock pray or fire school employees who are unvaccinated.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that folks received the vaccine and had some unease about it but I know that was the right thing to do and I stand by that choice…I find it irresponsible to allow these additional staff to leave when we have to my knowledge no plan to how to replace them,” Gibson said. She is asking the district to reach back out to the 29 people who recently resigned, in hopes that they will stay on the job.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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