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Henrico votes for a virtual start to the school year

Posted at 10:25 AM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 00:10:39-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- The Henrico County School Board voted unanimously on Thursday for a virtual return to school for at least nine weeks.

Earlier this week, Henrico County School Superintendent Amy Cashwell said she recommends a 100 percent virtual start to the 2020 school year.

"This recommendation, which goes to our School Board for a vote on Thursday, aligns with our Board’s desire to prioritize health and safety, and is the result of an intense examination of all angles and approaches while monitoring current health conditions in our region," she said. "As heartbreaking as it would be to not see all our students in person on September 8, it is clear to me that this is the most prudent recommendation at this time, based on evolving health information."

Cashwell recommended students learn from home for at least the first nine weeks of the 2020 school year.

"I don’t think there isn’t a rock we haven’t overturned or angle we haven’t examined, and approaching what I know is an incredibly complex situation," she told the board members.

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The Board and superintendent also expressed a goal of bringing some students and staff back to school as soon as safely possible. The school division will begin limited, in-person instruction in phases for certain student groups, as conditions allow.

Any in-person instruction will include social distancing and rigorous safety protocols as recommended by health experts.

Additionally, none of Henrico Schools’ employees will be furloughed, although in some cases "roles may be slightly adjusted to best meet students’ needs."

“I think the board did the absolute right thing by taking Dr. Cashwell’s recommendation," Varina High School teacher, Jimmy Lincoln. “I want to be back in school as soon as possible but when it’s safe.”

“We all care about our young people and we all wants what’s best and if we remember to be flexible and provide grace to ourselves and to others, I think we can really make it work," Lincoln said.

Dr. Danny Avula, the head of the Richmond and Henrico Health Department, said Wednesday he thought "a combination option of in-person and virtual makes sense."

"The nuance is in what age is your child, what dynamics for the number of kids, and their ability to adhere to social distancing guidelines," Avula said. "I do think a combination option of in-person and virtual makes sense, but I think you've got to look and listen, listen to your families and teachers and use that to drive your decision making."

Avula added that Richmond did a good job of listening to parents and teachers before making its decision to go all virtual to start the school year. He said he would feel comfortable sending his children to school.

"I think it’s very important for us even as a school system to be thoughtful how we are prioritizing masks for all of our teachers and staff in the schools and for our kids and families," Avula said.

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Outside of Thursday's meeting, a crowd gathered with signs that expressed their thoughts on the matter.

"I feel it's important for children to be back in school," a woman whose grandchildren attend Henrico Schools said. "I understand there should be a choice. I agree with choice."

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"Where's our choice?," a Henrico Public School librarian asked. "You're asking teachers to choose between teaching in a classroom where we can put our health and our lives or your kid going to school. We're not babysitters."

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The Chesterfield School Board also voted to begin the school year olline. School leaders in Hanover voted to gives parents a choice as to whether they want their children to learn on-line or in a classroom.

The votes come at a time when COVID-19 cases are beginning to rise in Virginia, however, most of the new cases are focused in the eastern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions.

This is a developing story.