Local superintendents react to Governor Northam’s push to return to the classroom

Some districts have maxed out in-person capacity, while others remain 100% virtual

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – A major factor in fully reopening Virginia schools is COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

As Governor Ralph Northam laid out his expectations for reopening schools across the state, some superintendents were left with questions.

“Is there any room to re-look at the mitigation efforts we have in place such as the six-foot physical distancing?” said Roanoke County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely. “That is the biggest barrier to having more students come into the school.”

Nicely wonders what happens or can change after teachers and staff are vaccinated.

Some school systems like Roanoke County have had students back in the classroom and are preparing to welcome more.

“We’ve now maximized our available staff and space to have as many students in-person as possible,” said Nicely.

On Friday, Nicely told reporters their hybrid, safe-reopening model is serving them well.

“Children are hurting right now. Families are hurting,” said Gov. Ralph Northam.

Then you have places like Martinsville where instruction has been 100% virtual since the year began.

“Don’t let anybody fool you, remote learning can never replace in-person instruction, but if you cannot have in place the gold standard of in-person learning, then a great remote plan is what you need,” said superintendent Dr. Zebedee Talley.

Community spread of the virus has Talley worried about families and staff.

Social distancing measures, mask-wearing, and enhanced cleaning are allowing schools to reopen before a vaccine is widely distributed. Ultimately the decision is left to each system.

In the coming weeks, it’s expected that school boards will review the guidance and make recommendations.

About the Author

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors Virginia Today on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.

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