Kids Need to Be in Class This Fall

by Kerry Dougherty

Ever since the Covid-19 hysteria began in March, Virginians have learned to dread their governor’s press conferences.

With good reason. One week it’s no sitting on the beach. Next it’s no loud music. Then, a mask mandate.

Who knows what the governor has in store for us this week. He’s expected to make some sort of proclamation about schools at a presser tomorrow.

Lucky us.

Working parents – you know, those whose jobs have not vanished thanks to Ralph Northam’s shutdown – want to hear that schools will reopen, fully and as scheduled in the fall.

So they can return to work. So their kids don’t miss even more classroom instruction.

If history is any predictor, Northam will slow-walk the reopening of schools just as he’s slow-walked the reopening of the commonwealth. Chances are kids may be going back to school in some sort of dystopian world where they attend in shifts, commute on mostly empty buses, wearing masks and physically distanced in class by teachers waving around pool noodles.

I hope I’m wrong.

Locally, educators are talking about some sort of cockamamie scheme that involves 50% of the kids going to school for two days, the other half going the next two days and on the fifth day, the kids can rest from this exhausting schedule while the teachers get to work on lesson plans. On the days they aren’t in school, the students will have online classes.

Geez, what could possibly go wrong? Here’s one: Children with learning disabilities will be lost. Perhaps permanently. If the governor forces any plan on Virginia that does not have kids in classrooms five days a week, parents of disabled kids should sue to force the schools to open.

As the parent of a child with profound learning difficulties I could write a treatise about how virtual learning for my child would have meant NO LEARNING at all had schools shut down when he was young. His IEP required one-on-one time with learning specialists daily. Plopping him in front of a computer for remote learning would have led to failure and frustration.

There seems to be almost universal agreement that closing American schools was an unmitigated disaster. The Wall Street Journal published a scathing piece last week, “The Results Are In For Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work,” that claimed from coast to coast online classes were a bust. Some children didn’t even have internet access and many more didn’t have supportive parents. Some children simply couldn’t learn online, others just drifted away and lost interest.

Preliminary research suggests students nationwide will return to school in the fall with roughly 70% of learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math, according to projections by NWEA, an Oregon-based nonprofit that provides research to help educators tailor instruction. It expects a greater learning loss for minority and low-income children who have less access to technology, and for families more affected by the economic downturn.

This is unacceptable. Especially when faced with the fact that the seasonal flu poses a more serious danger to children than COVID-19 and we don’t close schools for that. Virginia averages three pediatric flu deaths a year. So far, there have been no COVID-19 fatalities to anyone under the age of 20 in the entire commonwealth.

If one sector of society ought to be reopened immediately it is schools and youth sports. Of course, parents concerned about their child’s safety can keep their offspring home.

Every teacher I’ve talked to said virtual classes were riddled with problems. Kids checked out, failed to turn in assignments and eventually didn’t even bother responding to emails from their teachers. Especially after it was announced that work wouldn’t be graded.

Sure, highly motivated students stayed on track. Especially the ones with involved parents. But it’s not those kids we should be fretting about. It’s the children from homes with more TVs than books, whose parents are addicts, absent or abusive. Kids who have difficulty learning even during a normal school year.

One of my friends, who teaches in a Virginia Beach Title 1 elementary school, told me she is more worried about her pupils than she is about the virus.

“These kids need school,” she told me via email. “I’m so sad for my students and worried about their well being. Their parents are overwhelmed. We could lose countless students who will never catch up.”

Oh, and fears that children are asymptomatic “super spreaders” who could make their teachers sick seem to be unfounded. According to a recent study from Australia , children have far lower infection rates than adults, lower viral loads when they are infected and their transmission rates are less than 1 percent. In fact, the researchers couldn’t find a single case of a student infecting a teacher with the coronavirus.

Still, if teachers fear for their own health they should take sabbaticals until the virus goes away or a vaccine is available. Schools can hire long-term substitutes to take their places.

If subs are in short supply, the state should relax certification requirements for this school year and allow those with smarts and expertise but no teaching license to step into the classroom.

It’s time to honestly weigh the dangers of reopening schools against the long-term ramifications of poorly educated students.

That’s easy. Reopen Virginia schools.

This column was published originally at

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27 responses to “Kids Need to Be in Class This Fall”

  1. Kerry, you’re right that closing the schools has been an educational disaster. Of course, we won’t know just how bad for a couple of years because not only was school canceled, so were the standardized tests.

    My concern is that when students do return to school, they will be subject to even more intense political indoctrination (social justice theory) than before. Boy, talk about a mixed blessing.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well, this was predictable! 😉

    How many states have “fully opened” schools? Is this a Northam problem or a wider scale issue?

    And what’s keeping them from “fully opening”? Is it the main stream media that has induced hysteria across the land or perhaps science?

    Finally, ” mixed blessing”. As it is with almost every issue that Conservative types complain about – it’s a classic case of that dog catching the car it is chasing and guess what? The free-market – which had no better opportunity to supplant public schools – just plain flopped.

    So, of course, now we have this “mixed blessing” where Jim is saying.. that apparently we actually do need the public school system BUT it’s full of leftists and social justice warriors that will brain-wash the kids.

    So… geeze… what are we going to do? Oh, I know… the bitchin and complaining will continue for as far as the eye can see… and now Jim has help! 😉

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Monday morning quarterbacking is easy. At the time, officials did not know what they were dealing with. So, based on what we know now, there is a strong case for opening schools in the fall on schedule. That was not true in March.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think public sentiment is to open the schools but I’m listening to the schools and I’m not hearing them say they’re going to do what the public is wanting… there’s a lot of words from K-12 but I’m not seeing any of them say: “we’re fully re-opening come fall – the way it was before”.

    nope. not hearing that.

    1. CrazyJD Avatar

      >> but I’m not seeing any of them say: “we’re fully re-opening come fall – the way it was before”.>>

      And that’s the problem, Larry, that’s why we want a non-public option. I don’t see you challenging Kerry’s facts, you just go on a rant about …well, I’m not sure exactly.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        No Crazy – THE PROBLEM is ya’ll bitch and complain from now til the cows come home and you do NOTHING about it… If there was ever
        an opportunity to do so , NOW has to be that time so what are you doing… whining and bitchin like you always do.

        here’s the public school system on it’s proverbial butt and what are you guys doing to do something about it?

        nothing but more whining ! geeze!

        Don’t complain. DO SOMETHING other than blame others.. I think youse guys have become professional blamers…

        whine whine whine… geeze… 😉

      2. ksmith8953 Avatar

        There are going to be many non- public options. They can control class size and distance learning by offering synchronized classrooms where a teacher is present. Public schools have to worry about equity issues. I would highly recommend a non public option if affordable. Also, non publics have contracts and publics do not.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          I keep saying. THIS IS THE TIME for those non-public options to offer solutions while the public schools are still trying to figure out what can do or not. I’m hearing that things like music, arts, gym, arts… etc are in danger of being cancelled both for social distancing and if budgets are cut.

          Parents who want control of what their kids will be taught – now have that power… I’m not sure what they are waiting for… but the whining continues.

        2. kerry Avatar

          Just one problem: It’s my understanding that the governor’s edicts applied to ALL schools, public and private. All schools were required to close. If he allows private schools to decide for themselves, I see a new exodus from public schools if those are on some kind of split session schedule.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            The private schools have far less issues to contend with than the public … and we’re are getting close to when they can open and now is the time when they should be touting their advantages.

            K-12 is truly a “market” now…

            TV is actually awash with online school advertisements – and what is to keep private schools from offering 10 or less classes anyhow?

          2. ksmith8953 Avatar

            Private schools are going to be held to the same standards as public schools for the requirements of reopening. The problem is noone has the guidance.

          3. ksmith8953 Avatar

            Larry, the VCPE board met last week with the secretary of Ed. I was at that meeting. Private schools will need the 100+ document coming out on Tuesday, we hope. Then they can let parents know what they will be able to offer. Some of this is going to cost, like cleaning solution that can’t be found. We know this from private day care facilities that can’t open for that reason. The griping is coming from no action as promised last week. Hopefully, this week will be better.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            ksmith8953 – so a couple of questions:

            1. – are there ANY schools in any state that are open or opening or are they all more like Virginia?

            2. – are the restrictions that have to be met – based on science or are they just some arbitrary stuff the Governor has made up and the schools have no choice but to do?

            3. – We know what some of the public K-12 are saying in terms of what they might have to do to open..

            how about private schools – are they saying what they have to do ? I would have thought that the private schools do not have all the requirements that pubic schools will have – and therefore -closer to being able to re-open… not true?

            We have two narratives here:

            1. – that the Gov and Virginia are just making up draconian rules that are not scientific and not necessary.

            2. – that the restrictions are based on science and necessary- and they are pretty much the same for most of the states.

          5. ksmith8953 Avatar

            1. No, by the governor’s order and the 10 person rule, except virtual schools and some special purpose schools that serve special groups. No legal guardians and the school is their place of residence. Must have special permission.
            2. We don’t know what the restrictions are going to be, that is supposed to be delivered on Tuesday.
            3. Public and private will have the same guidelines. For a summer program, the private have to request permission from the State Superintendent of Public instruction and tell how they will meet those gudelines, once completed and made public.

            Noone can move forward until THE ANNOUNCEMENT. I am not sure if the guidelines follow CDC national guidelines, but from what I have heard, they are fair and will allow private schools to certainly offer an alternative to public schods due to the ability to manage enrollment and offer a contractual agreement to the parent ahead of any closures that may occur next year. Just need to see what it is that is going to be required.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            roger that. Thanks.

  5. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    The McLean Citizens Association wrote the following to the Fairfax County School Board.

    “To: The Fairfax County School Board:

    “The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) joins many other individuals and organizations in Fairfax County to express our profound disappointment with the failed distance learning roll out in response to the Pandemic. This was a major setback that caused significant harm to many.

    “We appreciate that FCPS and Superintendent Brabrand have detailed and prioritized lessons learned and are hopeful that recently developed distance learning plans will lead to more effective virtual learning (as required) in the fall. We expect that the Superintendent and all FCPS board members will hold virtual learning effectiveness as a high priority focus area for the foreseeable future.

    “Thank you for your time and consideration.”

    Whatever combination of in-person and remote learning it uses, FCPS damn well do a better job than it did this spring, despite a month of prep time.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I had a conversation with my Doctor -who oddly enough, lives in Fairfax with his wife and two kids.

      And I asked him about the Blackboard disaster and if things had gotten better and he said that they had gotten a LOT better… just one opinion..

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        FCPS’s main problem was that it operated what was essentially its own distance learning platform with a regiment of inside experts and some outside assistance. The in-housers failed the basics. They didn’t update the software for three years. Apparently, FCPS is using a outside platform. I bet the in-house support staff that presumably isn’t needed because of outside support will stay employed.

  6. ksmith8953 Avatar

    Like Kerry said, schools are anticipating the announcement and the over 100 page document that has been embargoed until the Governor speaks. My fear is that school systems and private schools will not have the PPE (cleaning agents) required by the guidelines. Distance learning was doomed from onset, no planning in advance. My granddaughter met with her teacher 1/2 hour per week. The teacher asked the kids how they were feeling. She received a demerit for not wearing her uniform at one session. Meanwhile, her mother had to take photos of her work and send them to the teacher. No scanned PDFs were allowed. ????? Here is the kicker- no work was ever returned and tuition remained at $900 per month. But she had a straight A report card. She has always had a straight A report card. It took her less than two hours to complete all work for the week.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      this was a private school?

      1. ksmith8953 Avatar

        Yes, it was. Not up to date with distance learning. The alternative- Petersburg public schools. Sad! Many of the parents/students of this Catholic diocese school are English as a Second Language Learners. Many can barely afford the $900 per month, but give up a lot to do so. Great kids. By the way. 7 students in her class. They could have met the 10 or less rule.

  7. Policy Student Avatar
    Policy Student

    There are rumors of confining kids to classrooms, and of cutting gym, music and recess. If those rumors are realized, I personally prefer an online option. Our family’s spring academic experience was surprisingly good. Granted, we have the option to telework, and can offer academic hand-holding during alternating shifts and evenings.

    I am keenly aware of childcare predicaments, the unevenness of distance learning quality, internet access issues, and socialization needs. I support in-person school any family that wants and need it.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    As someone way past my younger days as a student, I have none-the-less been forced to “learn” online – AND to take tests and pass them to be certified to do the jobs I do.

    The online tests I take are essentially “open book”. In other words, I can suspend the test session and go off to research the answer. I actually have to go to online document and fire up some software to do the tasks that have to be done to generate the answer for the test.

    I just assumed that this was the way a lot of folks were “learning” these days. Heck, if you want to learn how to do a lot of things, YouTube is your friend!

    So I KNOW for K-6, it’s still very much a work in progress but there is so much k-6 software out there now, it’s hard to imagine that none of it is good. You don’t even need internet for some of it. You just download the lesson from WiFi – go home and do the lesson then go back and upload your work and download the next.

    So what is missing? Software is like a personal tutor. I can and does guide you and help you when you are having problems.

    Home schooling has been around now for quite a while and apparently is successful.. many kids end up with fine educations – that get them into college.

    So what’s really missing? gym, sports, music, plays, etc ??? social things?

    but again- I “learn” right now – without a teacher… it’s just a computer and documentation and software… what’s the teacher for?

  9. TBill Avatar

    We have local grandkids in the schools, so we are watching closely.
    But also we belong to community groups that use the school space at night. So I am curious how they will handle Community Use. If the students are not using the cafeteria, then presumably that space would be free for community use. However, my interest is largely “academic” since our community groups are using Zoom now with no short-term intent to resume face-to-face.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      My grandkids don’t have to worry. They will be homeschooled, just as they have always been. The oldest will have some on-line courses, as he has had previously. The only difference might be that they will not be able attend the local (NoVa) homeschool co-op once a week, as before, because that program is hosted by a church.

  10. ksmith8953 Avatar

    Learning is a science. It requires modeling, guided practice and independent practice. The modeling didn’t happen given a worksheet. That is why little or no learning took place. Teachers or the online program must provide all aspects of the good pedagogy for learning to take place.

  11. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Here is one of our few serious leaders on the subject at hand, a man worth listening to:

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