Leaders on schools: ‘What reopening looks like from one area to the state likely will be very different’

Honesty, transparency are important during the planning process

ROANOKE, Va. – We have more questions than answers right now about what school will look like in the fall for the 1.3 million students in Virginia.

We are working for you to find out when schools may have a more solid plan in place. 10 News talked to one of the people who helped shape the guidelines all schools will have to follow.

“We’re clearly in a new normal,” said Jim Livingston, the Virginia Education Association president who has been hearing from teachers, bus drivers and administrators over the last few months. “I think the concerns are very similar across the state. I think there there is a desire to get back to as normal away of life in general and as normal a way of educating as possible.”

“For us, just making sure all of our students are prepared, ready and comfortable is what’s most important as we look at planning,” said Monica Hatchett, director of communications for Henry County schools.

Hatchett was on the committee that helped shape some of the 136-page document outlining how schools can open in the fall. Hatchett said they typically don’t have student schedules out until mid-July and they’re asking families to be patient.

“We do believe it’s important to be transparent but we also don’t want to issue a statement that we have to draw back later. For example, we don’t want to say we know that every student will be coming 25% of the time because we don’t have that plan set yet,” said Hatchett.

“The number one priority in our focus has to be on the safety of our students, the safety of our educators who work with them,” said Livingston. “What reopening looks like from one area to the state likely will be very different. I think that’s one of the big messages that our members want to convey to policy makers. What works best in Bristol for example may not work well in Arlington or vice versa.”

Many of you have a lot of questions including:

  • How are you going to work when kids don’t go to school every day?
  • Your child has a health concern, can they do all their schooling from home?

As parents work through their questions, Livingston said schools need to talk to parents and staff about what they know and what they don’t as they put plans together to submit to the Virginia Department of Education.

“We want them to know all of our small steps so they understand what that big picture is going to look like along the way too,” said Hatchett.

“Transparency is always a good thing. I think frankly there’s no shame in my mind for people admitting the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know,” said Livingston.

Many school systems have surveys asking for input and forms you can fill out online because they know this is difficult for everyone and want your feedback. They are also encouraging you to contact them with concerns. Contact your school system to find out how they want feedback.

This is part of an ongoing 10 News series looking into reopening schools in Virginia. Jenna Zibton is working for you, investigating many different angles of what the changes and challenges mean for families, staff, and the community. Contact Jenna if you have questions. You can email her or find her on Facebook.

About the Author

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.

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