by  James A. Bacon

Twenty days into the school year, more than one in five (21.2%) of students in Richmond Public Schools have been chronically absent, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Chronic absenteeism has always been a problem in the school system, but it’s worse in 2020 — up three percentage points from last year.

This data is worth examining for at least two reasons: (1) for what it tells us about unintended consequences of the Richmond district’s approach to handling the epidemic, and (2) for what it reveals about increasing violence in Richmond’s inner city.

The epidemic. Administrators attribute the high absenteeism in part to the virtual instruction and lack of supervision, mainly at the elementary school level, the RTD reports. Said Harry Hughes, RPS chief of schools: “We are operating virtually in the middle of a health pandemic. COVID has exacerbated an existing problem, and made it much worse.”

The surge in absenteeism has been driven by 13 elementary schools and one middle school. As foreseen by many, the decision to shift from in-person learning to online learning was problematic for kids from poor, single-parent households, many of which lacked Internet access and/or whose working parent was unable to supervise their children at home.

Some students have had trouble logging on, and teachers often don’t find out about technical issues for days, the RTD says. While Richmond schools does arrange for day care at schools, some parents have opted out for fear that the children might bring COVID-19 back home to vulnerable family members. This has all been widely reported, so none of it comes as a surprise.

Gun violence. Here is what startled me: Administrators blamed many absences on an increase in daytime crime.

Cheryl Burke, who represents the 7th District on the School Board, said she has been doing her due diligence to learn more about the crime happening in the East End, where she lives. She said she was not surprised to hear that families have stopped sending their students to learning pods in the East End because of gun violence.

“Some parents have shared with me that … they have children sleeping on the floor. They have beds, but because of the gun violence going on … they’re sleeping on the floor because they’re so terrified,” Burke said in an interview. “I’m heartbroken about my children not being safe, because they deserve so much better.”

By some measures, crime in the City of Richmond is falling this year. The number of rapes, robberies and assaults was down through Oct. 18 compared to the same period in 2019. However, gun crimes are an exception to the broader trend. Murders are up 13% this year: 53 as of Oct. 18 compared to the 47 at same point last year, according to police data. The number of firearm victims (listed as “victims shot”) was up by four to 186.

The gun violence is not like the old days when crack dealers shot other crack dealers in turf battles. The shooting is increasingly indiscriminate. Several shooting victims this year have been children.

As the school-absenteeism story informs us, the number of crime “victims” is much larger than the number of individuals shot with guns and recorded in police blotters. Fear of gun violence (and COVID-19) is so rampant in Richmond that children are sleeping on floors and parents fear to send them to day care.

While Richmond-area social justice warriors continue to protest the death of Marcus David Peters, a mentally ill man slain last year when he threatened police, we hear nothing from them about the thousands of city residents living in fear of crime. There is something very wrong when fear of crime interferes with learning. And there is something very wrong about those who are indifferent to that fear.

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22 responses to “Germs, Guns and Schools”

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Unmeasured absenteeism. The number of students who log into virtual learning, turn off the camera, and set the new high score in Space Invaders.

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      Remember, the threat of the 21st century may come from beyond. Drones need pilots too. Train as you fight.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    According to an opinion published in the Richmond Free Press the uptick in gun violence may be attributed to white supremacists seeking revenge for the statues coming down…

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      A cursory look at its website produced nothing like that. Produce a link or citation or I’ll suspect you made that up.

      1. idiocracy Avatar

        This is the link to the opinion piece that Baconator is referring to.

        1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
          Baconator with extra cheese

          Thanks. It never lets me post links…. weird.

          1. Steve Haner Avatar
            Steve Haner

            Ok – I didn’t peruse back to August…Not a serious suggestion.

          2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
            Baconator with extra cheese

            Stoney, Gray, and Morrissey all publish in the Free Press opinion section. Should we not take them seriously? I mean this is a legitimate newspaper right?
            So why would they publish such things unless they thought it should be heard?

  3. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    Ok. I’ll go find it again. Hold on.

  4. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    Go to opinion…
    Title is “Connection between shootings and removal of statues?”

    Dated 8/13/2020.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        Looks more like a comment than an article although it has a title and its own comment section.

        1. idiocracy Avatar

          It’s a letter to the editor and they must have needed some filler that day.

        2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
          Baconator with extra cheese

          I did say the published an opinion… but still that is quite the opinion for a newspaper to publish.

  5. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    You’ll have to use the “next” button to navigate back theough the opinion page…
    I can’t seem to be able to post a link….

    If you also google Richmond Free Press and type in the title of the opinion I provided it’ll take you to it.

  6. I thought getting rid of the statues on Monument Ave would improve everyone’s lives?

    Gun crimes are up? This can’t be true. Weren’t we told by the “gun safety” people that all the new gun laws would make us safer?

    I guess we just haven’t gone far enough to the left yet. Maybe defunding the police will fix everything.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      It is not just removal of the statues. The gun regulation crowd got quite a few of their priorities passed and signed. Nirvana is just around the corner, along with the end of COVID…..

      If any of the Richmond gun crimes were Unreconstructed Confederates taking revenge over the statues, you would have seen twenty news conferences, a few legislative hearings, and about a hundred hours on CNN by now….

      I share Jim’s basic concern that the response to this pandemic is going to have the worst impacts on these struggling, low income families and students. But seems like only us Right Wingers are expressing that and nobody is changing anything, so I’m not wasting more energy. Northam and Stoney don’t give a damn.

      1. “If any of the Richmond gun crimes were Unreconstructed Confederates taking revenge over the statues, you would have seen twenty news conferences, a few legislative hearings, and about a hundred hours on CNN by now….”

        And full-blown Congressional investigation…

      2. djrippert Avatar

        “Northam and Stoney don’t give a damn.” Of course they don’t. Stoney is busy trying to cover up his $1.8m statue removal contract and Northam is writing angry letters to the VMI BoV over Facebook posts. They have no time to worry about murdered children in our state capital.

        I’ve been following the COVID resurgence in Europe pretty closely. Wales has gone into a very serious lockdown, for example. Paris has strict curfews. If the same resurgence happens here as the weather gets colder – does ANYBODY think Northam has a plan? Anybody?

        This might get much worse before it gets better.

        1. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          Lemme finish this Amazon shopping list and I’ll get back to you….Won’t get caught flat the second time! TP, acetaminophen, zinc, liquid soap, a couple more N95s…

          Oh, yeah, some empty spaces in the wine fridge need to be occupied…

  7. Bring back Project Exile.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    Talk about disparate impacts !

    “King George man drives 60 miles, one way, to get DMV service

    Buying a car was the easy part; getting it properly registered in the midst of a pandemic took James Barrett of King George County on a long and winding road.

    He would emphasize the “long” part of it, for sure.

    The retired soldier, who’s spent almost 45 years in the service and government work, started looking on Friday for a way to get the new title, tags and registration for the fire-red 2005 Ford Mustang he bought from his neighbor. The transaction can’t be completed online, and since Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles sites shut down in the early days of COVID-19 and have reopened in phases, the facilities are taking customers by appointment only.”

    Yet another example of Northams incompetent governance during the pandemic, eh?

    Oh for those wonderful day of McDonell or McAuliffe. They would have done it right!


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