Students protest Montgomery County decision for more in-person learning

A community survey showed most students and teachers favored staying hybrid, while most parents want kids back in the classroom more frequently

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – About 70% of Montgomery County Public School students are set to be back in the classroom four days a week starting Monday, March 8.

But for the first time in our area, students are rallying against that decision.

About two dozen students gathered outside the school board office before Tuesday’s meeting. They held signs and asked pointed questions, wanting to know what school board members can do for them.

“I feel like in general the student and teacher population here in the Montgomery County area is silenced on many issues including this one,” said Natalie Miller, a junior at Christiansburg High School and co-organizer.

They also shared that message inside the meeting during public comment, but it fell on a school board split not in their favor.

Board members Mark Cherbaka, Penny Franklin and Sue Kass all support the students. They stopped by to talk with them before the meeting, praising them for the activism. Cherbaka encouraged them to remember that it’s a long road to change.

“But I also want them to see where things are broken, where people aren’t necessarily acting in their interest, democracy is messy, it’s messy at the local level sometimes,” Cherbaka said.

The board approved the expanded plan for four days of in-person learning at its last meeting, flying in the face of the majority of students and teachers who were voted against it in a survey prior to the decision.

But in that same survey, a majority of parents and other community members overwhelmingly supported the change and that’s what those on the other side rest on. Jamie Bond, Gunin Kiran, Dana Partin and Marti Graham all voted in favor of the change at the last meeting and none changed their mind.

“Just as much as children and teachers and parents and kids don’t want to go back, or feel like they’re not ready to go back, or we shouldn’t go back, I’ve heard just as much of the opposite,” Partin said.

Students have started an online petition that’s gained nearly 2,000 signatures as of Tuesday night. And despite a lack of change, they said they don’t see this as a failure.

“That was really our intention to bring attention to this issue outside of just the school community and seeing that we are here and we have stuff to say about this,” Miller said.

The division is also preparing for a virtual academy for next year. School leaders said that parents can expect information about that from the child’s school in the coming weeks.

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