Richmond School Board meets online to discuss if children should return to classrooms

Posted at 11:28 AM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-10 18:40:31-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond School Board met over Zoom Thursday night to discuss the district's reopening plans. Board members were joined by a team of medical professionals to help them navigate guidelines and scientific data to find the best way to start the school year this fall.

"It's undoubtedly one of the most difficult and complex decisions you all have had to sort through as a board," Dr. Danny Avula, Director of Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, said.

Avula said social distancing, wearing masks, deep cleaning, and staying up-to-date with the latest data were essential guidelines for school leaders to implement to keep students and school employees protected.

"We want to be data-driven in our decision making and the data continues to come at a really rapid pace now," Dr. Avula said.

Hundreds of people watched the meeting, which lasted several hours, live on Facebook. They left thousands of comments and questions.

"Do you really think kids, and especially teens, will wear masks and follow such strict guidelines?" one person asked.

Another showed concern for teachers asking, "What about older teachers and teachers who are high risk and can't afford to not work!!!"

According to Dr. Avula, COVID-19 cases are trending down in Central Virginia.

Doctors said children appear to be at low risk of catching and spreading the virus.

"I'm going to say this a little bit tongue in cheek, the data would suggest that we should have opened schools before we opened bars," Dr. N Romesh Wijesooriya, from the Children's Hospital of Richmond, said.

But, minority teachers, especially those over 65 years old have reason to be concerned.

"The African American population specifically has been harder hit and in RPS our staff has a high number of African Americans and so we have to be thoughtful and careful given that reality," Dr. Wijesooriya said.

Three hours into the meeting, after the presentation from doctors and the reading of public comments sent in by email, the board was presented with the district's two reopening plans.

The proposals include 100% online learning, a divided schedule with two days of in-person learning and three days of virtual learning, and 100% in-person classes for the school year.

No votes were recorded Thursday night

A special virtual board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 14 at 6 p.m.