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An inside look at how Petersburg Schools are preparing for the first day

Posted at 10:50 AM, Sep 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 10:50:31-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Petersburg City Public School students return to the building on Sept. 7, and 70% of the district’s students haven’t been inside a classroom since March of 2020.

Right now, only 100 Petersburg students are enrolled in Virtual Virginia -- which means the other 4,000 students will be learning inside a classroom face-to-face with a teacher.

CBS 6 got a look inside Vernon Johns Middle School as the district prepares for the first day.

Superintendent Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin said there’s a lot of learning to catch up on, but her top priority is keeping students and teachers safe. She walked us through the front door of Vernon Johns Middle and showed us the numerous COVID-19 mitigation strategies the district has in place.

"We will have gloves, we will have napkins, hand sanitizer," explained Pitre-Martin. “We will have a lot of protections, and we see it as a more layered approach.”

From mask-wearing, to keeping children three feet apart and even sanitizing classrooms with UV Ray machines, the district hopes to limit the spread of COVID-19 when students return to school.

"This is what the hospital uses, and we are now using it in our public school system here in Petersburg," said custodial foreman, Franklin Mason.

Keeping these buildings in top shape is a job Mason takes great pride in.

“It's all about the kids. I love kids," he explained. "My grandkids go to the Petersburg Public School System, so that makes it more personal for me."

Mason and his team are also using electrostatic sprayers, and maintenance has upgraded each school’s ventilation systems, as well as placed air purifiers throughout classrooms and hallways.

"We are certainly, you know, cautiously optimistic about students returning to school," said Pitre-Martin.

With 70% of the district’s students having learned from home all last year, Pitre-Martin said they’ve added additional counselors to each school.

"Our students will need a lot of support in social and emotional wellness," she noted. "We know that's going to be critically important.”

But Pitre-Martin noted it’s also important for parents to monitor their children at home, both their physical and mental health.

“We want to know if there's anxiety there and how we can help to support them through it," she explained. "That first day of school will be important for all of us, and we need to communicate as much as we can.”

Petersburg has sent consent forms to families and will be conducting weekly COVID-19 testing every Wednesday. Results will be available on Thursday evenings.

The district is also strongly encouraging all students age 12 and older to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Petersburg used federal funding to purchase 12 new school buses, but, like most districts, they are still in need of bus drivers. Right now, they have around seven open positions.