CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Student failure rates, along with mental health concerns, are growing within Chesterfield County Schools as the nation hits the 10-month mark in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, CBS 6 learned one in six Chesterfield high school students failed two or more classes in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year. That number is almost twice as many as last school year.
One in eight Chesterfield middle school students failed two or more classes so far in the 2020-21 school year. That is more than double compared to last school year.
One in 60 Chesterfield elementary school students received a failing mark, so far this school year. That number is virtually unchanged compared to 2019.
“They're being failed, and nothing will change if we don't take true numbers, and admit that this is not working,” Emily Klein, whose son and daughter attend Chesterfield schools, said.
Klein’s son Jackson is in 7th grade at Tomahawk Creek Middle School. Her daughter Anna is in 5th grade at Old Hundred Elementary.
Both are typically Honor Roll students, she said, but both failed several classes in the first quarter of this virtual school year.
“We're doing the same thing and expecting the same result, but the environment is completely different,” Klein said.
Jackson has ADHD and Anna is dyslexic.
Klein said both conditions make the virtual environment an even greater challenge for her kids.
"I usually am like an A/B student, and I've always tried hard, except now when I try hard, and I'm trying harder than I have ever I still am failing more than I had before," Anna said. "It's really upsetting because I don't know what's wrong."
When Klein looked at Anna’s first-quarter report card, she said she didn’t know what was wrong either because Anna’s grades from ParentVUE were not listed.
“We had three Fs and a D, but when I got the report card, it had N/As for every single class,” Klein explained. "If you look at the data there, nothing needs to change with elementary school. But I am one person that can say they didn't report my data. They just put it under the rug."
Klein said she and her husband both work and then she’s up late into the night helping get her kids organized for school the next day.
”They are not failing; they're being failed and it's really hard to watch. It's like being in an abusive relationship,” Klein said. “My kids, I know it's not good for them I know it's not, but I have to go to work and leave them here every day and then encourage them to continue to go to school virtually despite the fact that I see the mental anguish they're going through. I see the depression set in. I see the anxiety of failing grades and I still have to go to work every day and it's such a hard thing as a mom to have to walk away from your kids when they are crying for you and they need you and they need your support and just leave them in this relationship that continues to fail them,” she added. “And teachers are trying they're doing the best they can. They were thrown into the ocean and told to build a ship.”
"It's been really difficult because we don't actually get to go to school. So, I'm used to seeing, like what my peers are doing, if they are struggling on it and I am, too, I get that boost that I'm not the only one struggling but now I'm not with everybody. So, I don't see if I'm not the only one struggling,” Anna added.
“Our children have suffered from COVID-19, as have our families and one of the things that we certainly are entertaining is looking at perhaps year-round schooling for the next year, perhaps adding increased days this summer to really help our kids get caught up,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said.
But Emily said putting pressure on her kids to catch up in this virtual environment isn't worth the risk, she fears, of losing them.
“We know what they're capable of and so we want to see that same success, so we push, and I saw the mental toll it was taking on them," Klein said. "Then we lost a classmate, my son lost someone he's been in school with, since Kindergarten to suicide and that's when I said enough's enough. This is not worth it. Going to school, virtually, and sitting alone, isolated, and still not feeling supported or successful, is not worth any child's life.”
"If Chesterfield County Schools are watching tonight, what would your message to them be?" asked CBS 6 Investigative Reporter Laura French.
"My message would be to open up this conversation. Teachers are struggling, parents are struggling families, students are struggling, and it is their responsibility to own up to the failure. It's not their fault. I never expected them to hit it out of the park the first time, I do expect us to utilize the data and make a change. I do expect for anybody to say when they were wrong. We expect that out of our kids. What kind of example is that setting? Chesterfield owes it to the kids to say that they're failing. Because otherwise, they're putting their lives at risk,” Klein said.
CBS 6 requested comment from Chesterfield County Schools on the 1st Quarter grade comparison data we were told the best place to start would be the School Board work session presentation Tuesday.
A Project Restart update is an action item on the Chesterfield County School Board agenda for Tuesday night. That meeting begins at 6:30.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, CBS 6 has requested the same grade comparison data from surrounding districts. We will bring you that information as we get it.
We reached out to the Virginia Department of Education and learned the state superintendent briefed local school leaders on forthcoming guidance on reopening.
We are told the guidance is expected to reflect the growing body of research supporting the safety of in-person instruction with social distancing and other measures, such as face coverings for students and teachers.