School Board Meeting – January 18, 2022

The school board meeting opened with two new agenda items being introduced. Discussion was had on where to place the agenda items and to ensure that the relevant documents were made available to residents. 

The student representative for this meeting was Sydney Wright. She is currently a junior at Open High School. She is a member of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, Debate Team, and the Student Broadcasters program. Sydney is actively involved in sports and plays AAU field hockey, as well as varsity volleyball for John Marshall High School

She wished to offer some feedback as budget discussions continue. There is still not proper lighting for athletes at her school, despite ticket sales being able to help divert the costs. She is worried that 1.9 million dollars allotted will not be enough. 

Public comments began with a teacher, Andrea.  She has stated that there have been 176 cases of COVID-19 reported today. Last Tuesday she sent a letter but received no response. She asks for virtual instruction for 2-3 weeks. She and other teachers cannot ensure academic progress because of the revolving door of COVID-19 having students and teachers leave in and out. Students don’t wear masks properly and data is filtered and inconsistent. She comments that while vaccines and boosters are great, long term issues like fatigue and a long-term cough are still worries as well. 

Emma is a teacher at Huguenot HIgh School and has been reflecting on what level of risk she can take everyday in regards to COVID-19. She also asks the school board to pay attention to the eviction crisis. Students and families are made homeless by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA). This is only pushing them away from the city.

Anne is a River City middle school teacher, and only 65% of middle school students are in class for her. Teachers aren’t here and the people who are here are struggling. The fun things of school are drained away because of COVID-19. She also found it startling that her 8th grade students were not talking, as that is very uncharacteristic of kids their age.

Cole is also a teacher at River City middle school. He is unhappy with the district’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies. The district must provide adequate and appropriate masks. The city is proud of the 250,000  N95 masks they acquired, but only a small number have been distributed to schools. They are relying on home self testing, but it is frustrating to send students to the nurses for COVID-19 symptoms, and yet they  cannot test the students. There is also likely to be chronic under reporting. He asks the board to give clear metrics on when to switch to remote learning.

Steven is a teacher at River City middle school and appreciates the superintendent’s commitment to masks, although there needs to be a  written policy detailing it.  A majority of students have no issues with masks, but some are “immune to wearing their mask properly.”

Natalie works at Lucille M. Brown middle school. They are short on cleaning staff and are even out of soap in the building, so it is baffling to her how she can imagine the school properly taking care of the staff and students’ safety.

Jeanie is an RPS parent and came to thank all the teachers who spoke today and all those who help support the schools. SHe also reiterated the frightening statistic that more than 170 cases were reported today.

Lisa is working through her first year as a teacher. When she had COVID-19, the communication with her school with regards to how to receive insurance, the quarantine process, and so forth, was terrible. Attendance is at an all time low, with less than half of the class present.

With the end of public comments, the School Board proceeds to uphold their mask mandate for ages two years and older regardless of vaccination status. It was read by School board member Burke and seconded. 

School board member Young asked for an amendment to afford parents the opportunity to exempt their children from the mask mandate. There was no second, so the amendment failed to be voted on.

Superintendent Kamras, in response to Mr. Young in a way, stated that this mandate was mirroring the General Assembly senate bill 13.03 which requires, to the maximum extent possible, to follow the CDC guidelines. As such, this policy reflects that.

Mr. Young reiterated that we should trust parents on what they know is best for their children.

Dr. Harris-Mohammed presented on the Dreams4RPS Update on attendance. Some findings include the:

  • Disproportionate impact of COVID on communities of color
  • Direct impact of family illness and loss
  • Concern about sending students to school
  • “Quarantine Absent” represents ~22% of all quarantine days
  • Increase in neighborhood violence
  • Over 90 homicides in Richmond during 2021 (9 RPS students) leading some families to not send
  • their children to school
  • Students transitioning from virtual to in-person learning
  • 389 RVA students withdrew through first marking period (200 withdrawn by VVA)
  • Attendance during the transition back was low in many cases

The full report can be found here: https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/richmond/Board.nsf/Public

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