School Board Overview – 09/20/2021

The school board meeting began with a student representative speaking, Danyelle Stringer. She is currently a junior at John Marshall High School. She is an honor roll student currently pursuing an Associates Degree at J. Sargeant Reynolds through the Early College Academy.

She asked the council to prioritize school safety during Covid. She asks, are teachers wiping down desks after every class? Are busses being wiped down? What about lunch tables after each lunch period? She asks there to be sanitation stations present for students and staff alike to use.

Next, a student presentation was given by Jasmine Johnson. is a junior at John Marshall High School who is in the Early College Academy. She has served on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council as well as the John Marshall HS Student Council. Student Presentation. She recited a literary piece of sorts, speaking of the beauty of being back in school. She ended her piece appreciating everything Richmond Public Schools has done.

Citizen comments then began. After every comment was spoken, the podium was wiped down, to keep with protocols.

Mr. Morgan expressed his frustration that RPS drivers and mechanics are not given incentive bonuses. He is a driver in the afternoon and mechanic in the morning, so this lack of support is something that needs to be addressed.

Ms. Mildren brought in a ziploc bag of some of the foods served as school lunches. She argued that the food provided does not meet USDA standards. Parts of the meals are frozen. There are food items like pizza bites and mystery sandwiches. As such, she asks RPS to prioritize food service.

Ms. Sandidge is a teacher at a RPS school. She knows that starting the 2021-2022 school year, students in Virginia public schools will take growth assessments in grades 3-8 reading and mathematics. However, after over a year of being virtual, students are being bombarded with tests. It is not fair for students to barely keep their head above water with so many assessments being required of them.

After the citizen comments, a moment of silence was given for two students who were fatally shot at their high school, in Newport News, Virginia.

Another issue that was raised by a citizen was to advocate for driving awareness. Her daughter last year was killed from a car collision, and so the mother wishes to organize a driving awareness event/rally, which will be held on the 17th of October.

Dr. Shadae Harris, the Chief Engagement Officer, gave a presentation on the Dreams4RPS Goal 8 – Attendance. She went over the statistics found on general attendance for RPS schools. Granted, recording attendance looked incredibly different during the fully virtual year, but she still presented on the findings of each school. There is a division-wide attendance team dedicated to the work.

After the presentation, Dr. Shadae Harris asked the council to suspend a suspension the following section of Board Policy 8-2.4 Student Attendance and Absences/Truancy:
Students shall not be absent from school (for excused or unexcused absences, excluding suspensions) for:
• Eighteen (18) or more school days per year, or
• Eighteen (18) class periods of a course (nine (9) days for a one semester course).
• Any student who exceeds this total will not be eligible to receive course credit and/or will be subject to retention in accordance with School Board Policy 5-4.2, Promotion and Retention of Pupils
Dr. Shadae Harris finds this improper, given that they are asking students to stay home if they feel sick.

Board member Dr. Harris-Muhammed asked how they can distinguish between students being genuinely ill vs. not. She worries that simple follow-ups are not enough, and asks whether there can be explicit documentation to solve this issue.

Dr. Shadae Harris reassures the board that documentation will be present during the follow-ups. Parents are contacted as the 18 day mark gets closer, and family liaisons are there to ensure accountability.

Superintendent Jason Kamras stated that for parents, allowing your child to stay home (not home schooled) will mean that they will not progress and will have to repeat a year. That is already a huge disincentive. However, he asked if the vote can be held at the next meeting, so more nuance can be added on both sides. The board agreed.

The next action item was to rename the Overby-Sheppard Media Center at Overby-Sheppard Elementary School to the Rita Jane Robsinson Media Center in honor of Miss Robinson, a teacher of 40 years. The school board approved the change.

Superintendent Kamras then offered the board an update of the Fall 2021 reopening. There have been about 114 student cases of COVID, but according to his knowledge, nearly 98% of these students have contracted the virus outside of school.

There are 11 vacancies for bus drivers, with 4 likely candidates in the process of being hired.

They are looking into increasing pay for food service workers. They are also transitioning to hot meals, with elementary school getting entrees heated in ovens, while middle and high school students received fresh cooked, hot lunches.

In regards to staffing, there are 66 teacher vacancies, with 51 of the positions already going through interviews and such.

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