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School safety

7/9/2020, 6 p.m.
We understand the unfortunate conundrum parents and families are facing as school districts across the state grapple with how to ...

We understand the unfortunate conundrum parents and families are facing as school districts across the state grapple with how to reopen safely and effectively during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Richmond, Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras has correctly delayed a vote on a reopening plan to give families and the School Board more time to digest the options now available in light of new guidance this week from the Virginia Department of Education.

State education officials have reduced distancing requirements for reopening from 6 feet to 3 feet as long as students wear masks.

We all know that’s a likely recipe for failure. How can teachers keep a classroom full of active elementary-age itty-bittys, or middle school tweens or moody high-schoolers in their masks and 3 feet away from one another?

We worry that students already have lost valuable learning time since schools shut down in March. And those for whom the education gap is real may be pushed even further behind if the only method of learning is online.

But what risk are parents ready and willing to take if schools are reopened with only masks, attempted distancing and the promise of nightly cleanings to protect their children and families from a possibly fatal virus?

Parents are hoping that schools can return to their unofficial function as day care providers so that they can return to work knowing their children are safe, cared for and learning.

What happens if a student, teacher or staff member tests positive for COVID-19? Will that force an entire classroom or school to be put under a 14-day quarantine?

How will cafeteria time be handled? What about gym or phys ed class? Or science class with shared microscopes and experiments?

These are some of the many questions for the School Board, school officials and parents to sort out in deciding the best option for their child or family.

We are encouraged that, so far, Richmond school officials want to offer options to families of in-person learning as well as virtual learning.

We are pleased that three new school buildings are on track to open this fall. But we also ask if the buildings they are to replace, namely George Mason and E.S.H. Greene elementary schools, can remain open to help reduce the number of students per classroom during the pandemic. Does Richmond Public Schools have the money and/or staff to keep those buildings open to help reduce class sizes?

This is a time for parents, teachers and all who are impacted to remain engaged and to speak up about how the options considered by the School Board will affect you.

Yes, we want to see schools reopen and for life to get back to “normal.” But the critical question, as we still are in the throes of this pandemic, is how to reopen safely for everyone.

Richmond Public Schools’ student population is largely African- American and Latino, a demographic that is disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus and related deaths. We all have reasonable fears for our physical safety and concerns for our social, mental and financial well-being.

But now is not the time to grasp at straws and throw ourselves at “quick fixes” that are not well thought out. We must use our best problem-solving abilities to come up with a reopening solution that is best for RPS, its students, teachers, staff, parents and the community at large.