School to start after Labor Day

By Ruthann Carr

The new start date for Fluvanna County Public Schools is now Sept. 8.

That decision was made by Superintendent Chuck Winkler and announced at a called Wednesday (July 29) meeting to address concerns raised in an open letter circulated on Facebook.

Teachers will now report to their jobs Aug. 17, Winkler said.                     l

“That gives us a full three weeks to prepare for students’ return,” he said.

The unsigned open letter appeared first on July 22. After a number of days, word came through several sources that the Fluvanna Education Association took ownership.

Bekah Saxon, listed on LinkedIn as the assistant director office of teaching and learning at Virginia education association, sent the letter with more than 500 online signatures to Winkler via email on Monday (July 27).

In essence, the letter questioned the school’s hybrid plan having students attend two days per week. Along with the hybrid plan, parents can choose a virtual education.

The letter promoted a fully virtual start to school for the first nine weeks. The letter also contained about 90 questions on issues of physical distancing, mask wearing, disinfecting surfaces, protocol for positive COVID-19 tests and who does the testing.

At Wednesday’s meeting, about 55 people made public comments. Two in person; the rest sent via email and read into the record by the three school board members physically in the meeting room: Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union), Cochairman Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) and Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham). James Kelley (Palmyra) and Andrew Pullen (Columbia) attended online.

The comments (unofficially) broke down as 39 urging a fully virtual start with 16 asking for school to start as planned with the hybrid, two-day per week in-person instruction.

A sampling of the comments:

Cindy Lewis:

“As we face the future if we end up 100% virtual learning I beg you to make it virtual learning and not another situation like we had last spring. We need daily interaction via zoom meetings or a similar platform to teach these kids….Simply referring the kids to video and power point presentations and sending self-guided work sheets is not teaching. I hear the teachers saying they don’t want to be exposed to our kids. But they still need to teach them. If not they need to accept unemployment as the reality many face who are unable to work today due to the pandemic. Expecting parents to shoulder the bulk of the instruction is unreasonable and as a tax payer I expect that the people who are being paid by my tax dollar to earn it by actually teaching my children a good quality education.”

Sarah Tyson:

“As a former teacher for Fluvanna and a current teacher in another county, I believe students need to be in school. CDC and all other science outlets are telling us this. My school is going 4 days a week for the elementary school and 2 days a week for middle and high schools. We are still providing the option for all virtual for any student that wishes it. As a parent, my children need to be back in school…. We cannot live in fear. There will always be something that will make us want to hide in our homes. We cannot teach our children to run and hide when things get a little tough. Data shows that children are not as susceptible to this virus as adults and the younger students don’t spread the virus to adults. Where is the administration that refused to close school when all this started until mandated by the Governor? We need to start doing what’s best for the students. You will not please everyone. Stop thinking about those people and start thinking about the children. Oh and my 6-year-old child with asthma will NOT be wearing a mask for any reason while on school property.”

Robert Bower, teacher, Fluvanna Middle School:

“Having a wife who is a nurse, I have followed Covid numbers closely over the last few months, not just reported cases and deaths, but positivity trends, how various groups are affected by the virus, and most worrisome, the lingering heart, lung, and other chronic damage to a significant percentage of people who have either recovered or were even positive for the virus without symptoms…..With all the lingering medical unknowns, safety concerns, and logistics challenges, after a great deal of thought, I would like to strongly urge the board to reconsider a mainly virtual option, as many of our neighboring and state school systems have chosen, at least for the 1st 9 weeks of the school year.  State numbers continue to flirt with putting us back into phase 2.  By focusing on mainly virtual instruction instead of the distractions of both virtual and hybrid, I think we will better serve our students academically, as well as the safety and health of our students, their families, and the community….Additionally we avoid the chaos of an unexpected return to phase 2 if the numbers rise.  Finally, while I hope we are not focusing on costs, the reduced transportation and other costs may help pay for other safety mitigations for the rest of the year.”

David Small, teacher, Fluvanna County High School:
“I am writing to let you know that I am strongly in favor of a virtual opening of schools in August.  Opening with in-person classes will have dire consequences in our county.  I have lived in Fluvanna for 26 years, I am raising my kids here, and I teach here.  I want to go to work…I love what I do!

I can do this virtually….my fellow teachers and I are up to this challenge.  The trick is…we don’t want to risk contracting this highly communicable disease or risk others we love and care for by meeting in person.  We do not want our schools to become a hotspot for the community and threaten the lives of our most at-risk community members. This seems utterly irresponsible as a school division, especially with the uptick in COVID-19 numbers in Virginia and our county. We spend so much time addressing active shooter situations to protect our students and staff…..COVID-19 is a clear and present danger.

The Hybrid Plan is a good one…but not for the present.

Summit Fever.  It is when mountaineers choose to summit at all costs because so much preparation, time, and effort have gone into that summit moment.  Wisdom always dictates to these mountaineers….TURN BACK! ….if not, the consequences will be dire.

The storm clouds are already hovering over our ‘summit of reopening.’ It is time to approach the summit virtually.”

Susan Bond:

“Our children need in-person instruction for more than just education. They need it for social and emotional skills. There are changes that can be made to ensure the students’ and teachers’ safety, such as using outdoor spaces when appropriate for learning, meals and other activities. Students can also eat their lunches in a classroom instead of the cafeteria to eliminate a large group being in close-quarters. Allow the teachers to move between classrooms, rather than have students fill the hallways during class changes. Leaving classroom doors open will reduce contact with high touch surfaces such as doorknobs. Last I heard, each student will be issued a Chromebook. Each student should bring this to school to eliminate sharing computers at school. Much of this mitigation I mentioned was gathered from the site.”

Sara Hernandez:

“I am a concerned parent and community member and feel compelled to speak at this juncture and voice my concern that reopening the school year with any in-person hybrid model will not only be a failure from a curriculum delivery perspective,  but a potential (and avoidable) disaster from a community health perspective…As a parent, as the child of public educators, as a citizen of this community, I strongly urge you to reconsider any in-person instruction for the start of the school year, and instead focus time, energy and resources on fully implementing 100% virtual curriculum and delivery for all grades and levels.”

Rose Johnson:

“It IS important for schools to open but WHEN IT IS SAFE for kids, teachers, janitors, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.  It is safe when testing is available and when tests can be completed in 24 hours.  That is not the case in most places today. Do we really want to risk the lives of these kids and frontline workers and their families? Push the government to do something rather than leave things in the hands of the school community! Your voices should be loud and clear in demanding action from a very slow government…”

Seth Matula:

“…I understand the desire, both personally and economically, why a return to normal is desired and that the opening of our children’s schools is a step towards that normality. But, at what cost?

That cost being to the health and possibly the loss of life of the children, faculty, staff, and administrators, and community members all of them interact with on a daily basis. Saying that children and young adults do not get sick or experience lesser symptoms as a reason for opening in-person classes, misses the larger picture, is short-sighted and selfish.

Until there is a working vaccine and effective treatments, creating an in-person educational environment is akin to creating a ticking time bomb. You are putting our teachers and children on the frontlines, creating an eventual outbreak in the schools that will infiltrate the community at large. There is no system of testing and tracing set up that will effectively identify and control an outbreak of this virus in our community. In-person classes will get people sick and may kill people. So, I ask again, at what cost? If only 50 people get sick, or 20 people, or 5 people? What number of deaths is acceptable to you? If you say anything but zero, you are not fit to serve…”

At the end of the meeting, Stewart had this to say: “It is clear that our community members have differing approaches to dealing with the pandemic, from remaining secluded at home with minimal contact with others to those who walk through our local businesses with their children, maskless, and not honoring social distancing. I have listened to staff who are ready to return to their classrooms and others who don’t believe we should return yet. No one wants to get sick, infect others or cause harm to our most vulnerable family members. I know there are people in our community who do not wear facemasks, practice social distancing or handwashing to slow the spread of this virus. For the safety of everyone, our school staff needs the help of our entire community in showing students what the new norms will be in our schools. All parents need to embrace these guidelines if they are sending their children back to school. They need to model for their children that wearing facemasks in public is appropriate and show their children that they are willing to comply for the common good. With everyone’s support, we have a better chance to make in-person schooling successful in our county.”

The next scheduled School Board meeting is Aug. 12.

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