Montgomery County’s school board on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to bring students to schools four days a week when they reopen in August.
The schedules were devised to reduce population within schools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. All schools would be closed Wednesdays for deep cleaning, teacher workdays and other activities.
Students in elementary school would attend half days, with half of students being taught in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.
For middle and high school students, the board approved a plan that would alternate in-person and remote instruction.
Middle and high school students would take two in-person class periods a day, alternating morning and afternoon sessions every other day. When not in the classroom, students would be taking online courses from home.
Board members approved the plans after input from a survey taken by 9,138 individuals, including parents, teachers and students.
About 56% of those responding to the elementary school survey opted for the four half-days option over an option to have students spend two full days at school.
In the secondary school survey, parents, teachers and students favored the approved plan by about 68%. The other option alternated student groups between one in-person class per day and remote instruction and completely online instruction across four to eight consecutive school days, depending on the individual school’s schedule.
“From folks I talk to, parents [are] wanting kids in school part of the day at least every day,” Superintendent Mark Miear said. “It’s my recommendation we go that route.”
Board members approved the schedules despite some reservations about an Aug. 13 start date.
“My concern is having to start on the 13th. I just think that’s maybe a little too soon, with the way things are changing, and how fast things can change once Radford and Virginia Tech come back,” board member Penny Franklin said. “I’m going to vote yes because we need to start moving and doing something, but I just don’t think we need to move as quickly as we are as far as opening on the 13th.”
A few other members agreed, though Miear noted some districts are eyeing early openings because of the potential for a COVID-19 resurgence in late fall.
“Now, when our numbers are low, it’s time to get the kids in there and get instruction going,” board member Marti Graham said.
“Because they’re going to go up,” Miear replied.
Following the vote, board members returned to a conversation on racial inequity that sparked heated debate at last week’s meeting and helped prompt more than 200 protesters to show up Tuesday evening outside the school district’s main office in Christiansburg.
An anti-racism resolution passed unanimously last week spurred board members Jamie Bond and Dana Partin to question why the board was singling out anti-black racism.
Bond expressed disagreement with nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism because they had seen some instances of property damage.
Partin said injustice has happened to people of all races, prompting Franklin, the only black board member, to reply, “No it has not. We do not have white people being killed in the streets.”
Board member Mark Cherbaka said Tuesday he was glad the board passed the resolution, and hoped the board would not repeat the kind of back-and-forth that characterized last week’s meeting.
“I think it’s important that we take a stand and that we say something at this moment in our nation’s history,” he said. “Obviously, white people are seeing this institutional racism in organizations that they love and now they’re looking at us and saying ‘Where’s your institutional racism and what are you doing about getting it out of our schools?’ ”
A contingency of demonstrators sent the board a list of demands, which board member Sue Kass read aloud during the meeting. Demands included instituting anti-racist training, opening lines of communication for student complaints and revamping the county’s discipline practices.
Kass was on the verge of tears as she apologized for not speaking up last week.
“I think what it does is it makes you really think about how you’ve led your life,” she said. “It makes you face your faults and makes it hard to face your faults and accept those and admit it to people.”
Bond and Partin didn’t speak during the discussion.
Franklin said some of the students who showed up before the meeting had reached out to her about not feeling validated.
“When it comes down to it, what goes on with those students in the classrooms, in the hallways, in the buses, that’s where the rubber hits the road,” she said. “And listening to those students today, talking about being called the N-word, and how they’re treated and how that’s ignored, all the things that we say that we’re doing, we ain’t doing it, because it’s still happening.”
Black students and employees are tired of dealing with bias so there has to be constant bias education and the district needs to keep people accountable, Franklin said, otherwise the board will be having the same conversation again.
“And if we are, none of us need to be here,” she said. “None of us.”
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