Board split on E-Sports

By Ruthann Carr


(The school board meeting took place before Gov. Northam ordered schools closed from March 16 to March 27.)

After a 2-2 tied vote, the Fluvanna County School Board on Wednesday (March 11) will vote again next month on whether to approve continued participation in E-Sports.

James Kelley (Palmyra) and Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) voted for; Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) and Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) against. Andrew Pullen (Columbia) was not at the meeting.

Stewart said she was impressed by her visit to the high school to watch students play E-Sports particularly because it gave students who might normally not get involved in extra-curricular activities a way to join in.

“Many of the students participating did not have the ability to participate in these games at home…It was involving students who wouldn’t be part of (after school activities),” Stewart said.

“I understand the concerns, but this is a pilot,” she said, adding she hopes those concerns having been shared with VHSL would be addressed next year.

“I’m still willing to support this as long as parents understand what they’re signing their students up for,” Stewart said.

Kelley agreed with Stewart that much will be learned in the first year of the program.

“I’m confident that this being a pilot, there will be changes in the future,” he said. “Ultimately I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It offers a new opportunity for a different kind of student to engage with his or her peers in collective play. I think it provides a great deal of benefits…I have confidence we will transcend these issues. I don’t want to punish students for something that is a work in progress. I don’t want to shut down a program because it’s imperfect. We’re all imperfect.”

Rittenhouse said he understood Kelley and Stewart’s points.

“As long as it’s monitored and it is a pilot program, I could go along with it especially for students who can’t play it at home,” he said.

Johnson reiterated the objections she raised at the November meeting to the content of the games chosen. The teen rating for two of the games used,  “Rocket League and League of Legends,” warn of “violence, blood, potential nudity and alcohol use.”

Johnson said Wednesday “I do not consider it imperfect, I consider it sexist” and “is in direct contrast to the mission of our public school.”

Then Rittenhouse had second thoughts.

“With that being said, that’s the way I thought in the beginning then Mr. Kelley and Ms. Stewart swayed me a bit, but I won’t vote for it,” he said.

In discussing health concerns with the coronavirus Covid-19, Superintendent Chuck Winkler said Fluvanna isn’t set up to provide online classes if the schools close.

He said Friday’s (March 13) staff day was going to be a “work from home” day.

During that time all schools and buses will be disinfected.

Executive Director of Instruction and Finance Brenda Gilliam said the schools are under a mandate to make sure all instruction is available to all students.

Many homes in Fluvanna don’t have access to the Internet or computers.

Kelley said he wanted to consider the students who rely on the schools for meals.

Winkler showed a slide comparing chronic school absenteeism in Fluvanna and surrounding counties.

Fluvanna’s numbers are higher than the other counties.

Kelley asked what the parameters are in reporting absences. Winkler and Gilliam said every school can report how they want to.

Kelley asked for more information to see if Fluvanna, Buckingham and Cumberland, the three counties with the highest number of chronic absences, had other things in common that might drive the numbers.

Winkler said he will investigate.

In the meantime, all Fluvanna school principals have several ideas and programs in place to address chronic absenteeism.

Winkler praised the community partnership that helped the schools weather the threat that closed schools for a day.

He said the “outpouring of support” from the community and law enforcement was amazing.

The administration is taking bids for health insurance next year as costs are going up.

Winkler sad there is a $100,000 surplus in special education funds. He asked the Board for approval to use that money to buy and new special education bus. They agreed.

Winkler said the first collection notices for school lunch debt have gone out and they’re starting to get money coming in. He didn’t say how much.

The Board approved the following items:

  • 2021 school calendar;
  • Creation of an environment science textbook adoption committee;
  • Capital maintenance funds to be used to equip as many buses as possible with air conditioning.

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