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Richmond prepares to welcome 20,000 students back for in-person learning

Posted at 7:22 AM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 12:56:06-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- On Wednesday, Richmond Public Schools will welcome back around 20,000 students for in-person learning. Another 2,000 will be learning virtually.

The district was the only in the state to not offer an in-person option for every student last school year.

So, what will the return to the building look like? And are school leaders prepared to handle some of the anxiety that might come with learning in-person during the pandemic?

CBS 6 sat down with Superintendent Jason Kamras and got a walk through of Chimborazo Elementary with the Principal David Peck.

“We’ve done our due diligence essentially," said Peck. “You’ll see the signage throughout the building face masks required.”

Around 365 students will walk through the elementary school doors at 7:45 a.m. Unlike past years, the district is not allowing any parents inside the school -- unless they have an appointment.

Protecting students and staff is Peck's top priority.

"Typically, we can fit over 200 students in the cafeteria, but because students have to be six feet apart, essentially only three students will sit at a given table, and they will all be facing the same direction," Peck explained.

Superintendent Jason Kamras is eager to welcome students back in-person, but he's also a little nervous.

“I do feel confident that this is a safe environment to learn in," he noted. “There will be some infections. I wish I could guarantee you that there won't be, but there will. But we will address it quickly, efficiently, transparently."

The district is following all nine of the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including upgrading HVAC systems, adding air purifiers and testing students.

All teachers are also required to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

"That is how we protect kids who can't be vaccinated," said Kamras. "It's also how we keep school open.”

Chimbarazo Elementary third grade teacher, Loren McAdams, supports the vaccine mandate.

“They can't learn if they're not here, if we're quarantined, so, you know, the little things do matter," said McAdams.

While she’s teaching third grade, she's prepared to address the learning lost last year.

"My anticipation is first grade because that's when they were last in school," McAdams explained.

Last year, the district says more than 60% of kindergarten through sixth grade students were reading below grade level.

"It's why we are investing about $65 million from our Biden stimulus plan in a moonshot literacy plan, really to do whatever it takes to ensure all of our kids are reading on grade level by the third grade," Kamras said.

Social and emotional learning will also be a focus point in Richmond schools, with in-school suspension rooms being transformed into mindfulness rooms.

“Many of our young people were facing all kinds of pandemics before COVID-19, poverty, institutionalized racism, housing issues, employment issues, health issues, non-related COVID-19, so we do expect to see some of that spill out in schools," said Kamras.

As parents in the city prepare to send their students back, school leaders want you to know your kids are in good hands.

"The end game is we get back to normal," said Peck. "What that new normal looks like is up in the air."

90% of Richmond students will be learning in-person, and the other 10% will be learning online.

Kamras said parents can make the switch from virtual to in-person at any point.

Changing from in-person to virtual is a little more difficult because RPS Virtual Academy is at capacity, and RPS students in 6-12 grades are on a wait list for Virtual Virginia.