An about-face

3/4/2021, 6 p.m.
Who lit a fire under Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras?

Who lit a fire under Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras?

Was it Gov. Ralph S. Northam?

Someone from the state Department of Education?

This week, Mr. Kamras did a sudden about-face and asked the board to approve a plan to reopen city schools to 800 students on April 12.

We were surprised.

Mr. Kamras and the board had been adamant for weeks that Richmond Public Schools was not ready to reopen for in-person learning because of numerous obstacles.

Among the obstacles they named:

•Air quality systems need to be installed to prevent the spread of germs.

•Restrooms need to be upgraded for adequate water for hand-washing and touchless soap and sanitizer dispensers.

•The incomplete effort to fully vaccinate teachers, staff and bus drivers.

•Lack of transportation available to get students to and from schools because buses are being used to distribute meals.

In early February, Gov. Northam asked that public school systems across Virginia come up with plans to reopen at least partially by March 15.

RPS and reportedly one other school system, Sussex County, were the only two that didn’t plan to comply.

Who put the squeeze on Richmond to join the fold? At Monday’s School Board meeting, Mr. Kamras stressed that the board needed to approve a plan that night so that it could be turned into the state Department of Education for approval on Thursday.

Under Mr. Kamras’ plan that was approved by the board, up to 800 students will return to in-person learning after their April spring break. The students will be in five schools — Blackwell, Holton and Miles Jones elementary schools, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Huguenot High School. All five schools already are open — we repeat, they already are open — for emergency day care.

We have not heard any reports about COVID-19 outbreaks among the 300 youngsters in the day care programs. So reopening for several hundred more students should not be a great stretch for Mr. Kamras, RPS administrators or the School Board.

We hope expanding the opening to 800 students will be safe and will help push the work along for RPS to be ready for its all-student reopening in the fall.

As we have said many times in this space, we believe safety is paramount when it comes to reopening schools. RPS’ largest numbers of students are Black and Latino, populations that have been disproportionately hit by COVID-19 cases and deaths. Our neighboring school systems don’t have to be mindful of this to the same degree as Richmond, nor do they have the profusion of aged school buildings that require attention and upgrading in order for students to return to a safe and healthy environment.

That said, a return to school should not be a superspreader event even for 800 students. We call for greater transparency from Mr. Kamras and the administration about the reopening plan. We call on them to share information with parents, teachers, students and the community about safety protocols that will be in place in April and to report to the public any COVID-19 outbreaks once in-person learning resumes.

We believe a return to the classroom will be more successful, absent any abrupt changes, with the addition of a clear plan articulated to families, teachers and the community.