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Roanoke County School Board delays vote on reopening plan, will hold additional meeting

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Roanoke County Return to School Plan cover 063020

The Roanoke County School Board has delayed its vote on the division’s proposed return to school plan, which may not have enough support to pass in its current form. The vote was to take place Thursday.

The delay will give the board additional time to hear from the public and discuss its options. Thursday’s meeting still will include a public comment period, but the board will only discuss the recommended reopening plan instead of voting. A work session has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday to give board members additional discussion time, according to spokesman Chuck Lionberger.

District officials presented their recommended reopening plan to the school board last week. Under that plan, pre-K through second grade students would attend in-person daily, while older grades would attend in-person twice a week and learn remotely the other three days. The plan also includes details about transportation, daily schedules, health protocols and other topics.

The recommended plan drew criticism from parents who desire a normal return to school. Several board members, led by Tim Greenway, voiced strong support for, at a minimum, sending pre-K through fifth graders back daily. District officials said that likely would mean needing to either abandon the 6-feet physical distancing recommendations or utilize additional space, the latter of which could displace older students or cost additional money.

“I don’t see how this educates our kids,” Greenway said of the proposed plan.

Chairman Don Butzer said Tuesday that it appeared the current proposed plan might not have enough votes to pass, citing other members’ opinions. Board members agreed to hold an additional work session to discuss next steps and figure out a potential “plan B,” said Butzer, who has voiced opposition to any plan that doesn’t have support from health officials.

The Roanoke County Education Association “would love” for the district to go back to the drawing board, said President Tim Summers — to create a more, not less restrictive plan.

“Any changes to the plan to make it more relaxed, we would vehemently oppose,” Summers said in an interview.

The RCEA, which has around 500 members, will not support any plan that doesn’t follow local, state and federal health guidelines, Summers said.

“The science is out there ... we’re sickened by the politicization of this thing,” said Summers, who shared concerns about student and staff safety, particularly in regards to older employees.

If anything, the teachers’ union would like to see a plan that more thoroughly addresses health and safety.

Younger students attending five days a week in close proximity to teachers is “not ideal,” Summers said. The RCEA is also concerned about buildings being cleaned adequately and getting substitute teachers, especially if staff contract COVID-19 and are out for a prolonged period.

But Summers also said the union is willing to stand behind the current plan. He said district officials gave a “thoughtful response” and crafted the plan in a “caring way.”

Anticipating a large crowd, the school board has moved its 6 p.m. Thursday meeting to the Northside High School auditorium. The Wednesday work session will take place at Central Office.


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K-12 Education Reporter

Claire Mitzel covers K-12 education for The Roanoke Times. Contact her at (540) 981-3334 or Follow her on Twitter: @c_mitzel.

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