Reopen Public Schools or Provide Education Choice

by Vicky Manning

When I was elected to serve on the Virginia Beach School Board in 2016, I never imagined there would be a time when I would have to fight to keep our school doors open. However, that is what I have been doing for the last 6 months.

The last day of in-person learning was Friday March 13th. At that time I felt the right measures were being taken to “flatten the curve.” However, as the months of school closures continued, I questioned the toll it was taking on our students.

I have been pushing since June to get our schools prepared to safely return our students. Elementary students and grades 6 & 9 were finally phased back into in-person learning around the beginning of October. The plan was for all other grades – 7,8,10,11,12 – to return last week under a plan for 2 days-a-week learning by splitting the students alphabetically by last name. Half of those students went back to school for 2 days last week, but if you were unlucky enough to fall into the A-L last name category, you got the plug pulled when the announcement was made by the Superintendent to return all students to virtual learning. Those students have not been in a classroom since March 13th.

I have lost track of how many calls and messages I have received from parents sharing with me the struggles they are facing with remote learning. I don’t blame the teachers because they aren’t the decision makers and they are doing their best with the tools they have been given. I hear from parents who have students with special needs who just cannot learn virtually. I hear from parents whose children are losing motivation to learn because they don’t feel they are being challenged in the virtual environment. Students who signed up for vocational and other hands-on programs have been doing book work for 2 months. I’m not sure how effective online learning is for carpentry, automotive repair and welding.

I hear from parents whose once energetic and outgoing teens are now suffering from anxiety and depression. According to the CDC, compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health related emergency department visits during the pandemic for children aged 12–17 increased 31%. Our own pediatricians advising the School Board emphasized the rising numbers of children with anxiety and depression they are seeing in their offices.

There has not been a single case of COVID transmission in Virginia Beach Public Schools. Yet on Monday the Superintendent, supported by a majority of the School Board, decided to close schools for in-person learning even for our students with special needs. My heart is breaking for those families. Virtual learning just doesn’t work for them and these children often rely on routine to be successful.

I fully support families who have made the choice to remain virtual but for those who desire and need in-person learning, they should also have that choice. The Virginia Constitution states that the General Assembly “shall seek to ensure that an educational program of HIGH QUALITY is established and CONTINUALLY maintained.” It also says that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.”

The public should demand that their local and state elected leaders provide them with their constitutional right to a high-quality education. If they can’t do that then let these families use their tax dollars to seek out an alternative education for their children. Private schools have remained open. I guess the difference is that the private schools are not beholden to the VBEA Union. The same VBEA that used their Grim Reaper mascot as a fear tactic at a school board meeting and used the slogan “canaries in a coal mine.” I’m not a superstitious person but it is interesting that the last day schools were open in March was Friday the 13th and the last day of in person learning in November was Friday the 13th.

I am a parent of two high school students who have only seen the inside of a classroom for 2 days in 8 months. Fortunately, I have the ability to enroll them in sports clubs to help keep them active and social. However, there are many families who don’t have that same ability and now that schools are closed there are parents who have to decide if they are going to stay home to help their 5th grader with virtual learning or go to work in order to pay their bills.

The cure should not be worse than the disease. Contact your elected leaders and let them know how you feel.

Vicky Manning is a member of The Virginia Beach School Board. This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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31 responses to “Reopen Public Schools or Provide Education Choice

  1. In these cynical times it might be considered trite to say this but “Thank you for your service.” Your most important words to me are “My heart is breaking for those families.” One wonders how many others in leadership positions these days honestly can say the same. I need to repeat here some of your words.

    “There has not been a single case of COVID transmission in Virginia Beach Public Schools. Yet on Monday the Superintendent, supported by a majority of the School Board, decided to close schools for in-person learning even for our students with special needs. My heart is breaking for those families. Virtual learning just doesn’t work for them and these children often rely on routine to be successful.

    … The Virginia Constitution states that the General Assembly “shall seek to ensure that an educational program of HIGH QUALITY is established and CONTINUALLY maintained.” It also says that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.”

    The public should demand that their local and state elected leaders provide them with their constitutional right to a high-quality education. If they can’t do that then let these families use their tax dollars to seek out an alternative education for their children. Private schools have remained open. I guess the difference is that the private schools are not beholden to the VBEA Union. The same VBEA that used their Grim Reaper mascot as a fear tactic at a school board meeting and used the slogan “canaries in a coal mine.” …”

    I am a parent of two high school students who have only seen the inside of a classroom for 2 days in 8 months. Fortunately, I have the ability to enroll them in sports clubs to help keep them active and social. However, there are many families who don’t have that same ability and now that schools are closed there are parents who have to decide if they are going to stay home to help their 5th grader with virtual learning or go to work in order to pay their bills.

    The cure should not be worse than the disease.”

  2. This is kinda important, so I’m gonna drop this link more than once.

    Ms Vicky, kids may be way better off at home… and in the closet.
    https://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/view/is-covid-19-primarily-a-heart-and-vascular-diseases

    • “All of that changed last week with the publication of three reports. The first was from Penn State Health which reported that 15% of Penn State athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 had myocarditis. These were young athletes and included both mildly symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. As a result of these findings, the Big 10 and Pac 12 postponed their football season.

      Myocarditis does not have specific symptoms and most patients can be asymptomatic. Myocarditis can produce fibrosis of the heart which may present years later with heart failure from dilated cardiomyopathy. However, in 50% of cases the cause of dilated cardiomyopathy is unknown, but there is strong evidence that past viral infections play a role. And myocarditis can occur in children.”

      It’s just the flu 😷

      • Maybe my idiopathic endocarditis six years ago was an early COVID? Probably bacterial….But nothing new about various viral infections engaging the heart. That’s why I’m behaving these days. Is that a reason to destroy the educational experience of an entire generation? Is we just lose a year, perhaps. But you Covid terrorists won’t let up, and the argument about closing schools will continue for years unless enough just takes a stand.

        • Glad they caught it. Bacterial is a possibility. Good thing that bacteria didn’t infect 10,000,000 in 9 months.

          “…the argument about closing schools will continue for years unless enough just takes a stand.”

          Or lie down dead as the case may be.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Yeah sorry Mrs. Manning. Nothing will change until you vote out the current school board.

    • Uh, isn’t she on the current board?

      • I think she is and apparently in the minority. Somehow the phrase “high quality education” has come into the rant.

        Not sure what is is especially since so many critics talk about how terrible public education is especially for the low-income; i.e. they already advocate non-public schools.

        So, we’re supposed to turn over taxes to folks to spend as they please on private schools not held to public school standards? Lord. Lord.

        • They won’t be happy until they are All homeschooled, until all of the public schools are shuttered… uh, wait a minute…

          • Well not only all shuttered but all the tax dollars given to parents to spend as they see fit on whatever kind of school they “like” – no transparency or accountability of course – not like public schools had.

            but yes.. give me those tax dollars – so I can exdercise my free market preogative!

          • Uh yep, it’s just the taxes. Cov-2 is their dream come true… unless they get it.

          • No grants? OK. Fine with me if instead they simply cut my taxes, since they are being wasted on empty buildings, empty buses, and teachers proud to be non-essential workers…..

          • Yeah, I’d like a tax cut too, but I don’t make $400K/yr…. maybe if I incorporate myself?

        • Just for the record, Larry, the public charter schools like the ones that have been written about and advocated for here are public schools. Unfortunately they are subject to bad school boards like every other public school.

          • Jim – I really don’t care what variation they are as long as they truly accept all demographics and especially the lower-income some claim to do better at AND they provide uniform/standardized academic results so we can actually verify they are successful.

            And I’m convinced if they were promoted in that way – we’d see more public support and in turn more school board support.

            We want the same things but I’m not going to buy a pig in a poke – not all Charters are successful and I don’t want to see transparency and accountability undermined as a consequence of claimed “better” schools.

            The irony here is that it’s the very transparency of public schools reported results that allows the critics to attack them. Without that transparency, we’d just not know – and moving to a charter system with less transparency is a no-go. The transparency must be there – period.

            We have 8 charter schools in Virginia.

            A supporter of those schools would post their results so we could see them and be convinced. Right?

  4. More and more evidence is showing that schools, especially those for the lower grades, are not places in which the virus is spread. It really makes sense to have in-school classes for elementary school kids at least. Especially telling was the decision of the city of Richmond to allow empty school buildings to be used for child care programs for children of essential workers.

    https://www.nbc12.com/2020/09/01/richmond-schools-open-schools-emergency-child-care/

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/20/covid-19-schools-data-reopening-safety/?arc404=true

    https://www.npr.org/2020/10/21/925794511/were-the-risks-of-reopening-schools-exaggerated

  5. We have school buses rolling again in Spotsylvania but I think we are still hybrid, 2 days in-person and 2 days-remote.

    I’m hoping they are focusing on the basics – reading, writing and math and let the rest go until can return full time.

  6. There are more than kids involved in school.

    If one looks at the school budgets, it shows that half or so is spent not on instruction but operations and maintenance.

    Transportation, food service, libraries, cleaning, etc and if the staff for these things is lost to the virus – you’ve lost the things that are needed to
    support instruction.

    You just can’t replace staff that easy. If the bus driver gets the virus, you might have some back-up but if several bus drivers drop out, what is the remedy? Ditto with food service or even custodians.

    It takes adult staff to operate and maintain the schools.

  7. The problem with the schools is not the kids, but the staff and that is why the CDC guidelines for school is tied to community spread. In communities where there is spread – it will also affect the staff at schools – both public and private. There is no magic. If there is a lot of virus in the community – it will reach many workers including school staffs and if it does, the schools will not have adequate staffing to continue in-person.

    We just refuse to accept these realities and instead point out that kids don’t get it. They mostly don’t but school staff do and that’s the real issue.

    • Anecdotal evidence, one of my brothers and one of my nieces have been teaching in-person at least part of week in New Hampshire and Minnesota respectively. Neither has reported a significant outbreak among students or their families. What does the national data show?

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    At the high school level this is going to impact graduation rates and dropout rates. I saw this article about the Richmond schools and the pre Covid graduation rates and dropout rates are staggering. I can only imagine what those rates will look like for last year and this year. Kamras won’t show the new numbers to the public.

    It would be a good idea to look into this and formulate a game plan to help those students recover the lost class credits. Time to give the post covid world some serious thought.

    https://thevirginiastar.com/2020/11/21/rps-has-worst-graduation-and-dropout-rates-in-the-commonwealth/

  9. Because no households with K-5 children have infants living there as well, it’s safe to send them to school.

    “To more accurately assess the virus’ impact on very young infants, the Johns Hopkins Medicine team conducted a systemic review of reports and studies published between Nov. 1, 2019, and June 15, 2020, on laboratory-confirmed community-onset (where symptoms are first seen outside of the hospital) SARS-CoV-2 infections in children less than 3 months of age. Thirty-eight publications describing 63 infants met the criteria for being included in the study.

    The researchers used data from the documents to define several variables about the youngest group infected by SARS-CoV-2, including age, exposure to COVID-19, past medical history, clinical symptoms, SARS-CoV-2 testing, laboratory findings, clinical course, and resulting outcome after hospital discharge or end of care (disposition).

    Most of the infants evaluated in the study — 58 out of 63, or 92% — were hospitalized upon confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Along with the most common characteristic, fever (46, or 73%), the patients presented with various degrees of respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiac and neurological symptoms. Eventually, most of the cases proved mild to moderate and improved with supportive care. Three infants were asymptomatic. Of the 63 patients, only 13 (21%) were admitted to an intensive care unit and two (3%) required invasive mechanical ventilation. No deaths were reported.”
    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-11/jhm-rnt111720.php

    Well, best to risk losing ’em before you become attached to ’em

  10. In a recent VDOE online meeting, an official made a comment that the Covid transmission rate in schools that were open were significantly less than in the general population. Schools are doing a wonderful job of maintaining safety protocols- teachers and students. For example, Tazewell County has been open 4 days a week since opening in August. A few schools have had to switch to virtual for a week or two due to community spread issues, but from what I understand, there have been no documented cases of spread in schools.

    It seems at this point that the science may have progressed enough to at least the point that we understand how this thing spreads, and how to mitigate that in a school setting. It also seems that there is a significant number of students who are either finding alternatives to public education or are simply no longer engaged with public education. The share below demonstrates public school enrollment over time, and has been updated with this year’s September 30 enrollment figures.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1RvzSWYQC8f5rU-GxnssUZIGL-nQs91Ft/view?usp=sharing

    You may find the data used to compile the chart at the link below.
    https://p1pe.doe.virginia.gov/apex/f?p=180:1:7197833846953:SHOW_REPORT::::

    These figures also do not reflect the growing number of students who are enrolling in Multidivisional Online Providers (MOPs). These MOPs (such as https://www.k12.com/) are educational companies that provide instruction to students across the Commonwealth. They partner with public school divisions, take the state ADM funds for their services, and provide the partnering school division with a very small record keeping fee.

    This fall, I have met virtually with hundreds of teachers and administrators from across the state, both those who are implementing a hybrid plan, as well as those who are fully virtual. For those kids of doctors, lawyers, and the like, the main problem associated with virtual instruction is the inconvenience experienced by the parents to ensure that their kids are doing their work. For the kids of parents who do not value education, it is entirely a different story. Many of these kids have not engaged at all this year, despite being enrolled. The folks in our schools are really bending over backwards to try to get these kids to participate. This is the biggest complaint that I hear from both teachers and administrators.

    We have all read about some of the teacher organizations that have constantly pushed back against plans for in-person instruction. To counter that, I’ll provide some anecdotal information. At each of the virtual meetings mentioned above, we ask folks to begin the meeting with something positive that has happened recently to them. The most common reply is that they are so glad to have their kids back in their classrooms.

    While I realize that this is a tough problem, I also realize that public education is critical. It will probably take years for us to determine the educational impact that Covid has had on the progress of our students. I’m afraid by that time it will be too late and our most traditionally underperforming students will pay a huge price in less opportunities for success later in life.

  11. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Mr. Hurt that was thoughtful and useful. What is staggering is that your chart demonstrates 50,000 students in Virginia have left public schools. Factor this times 10 or more since most students have their cameras turned off and are off doing other things. What are they doing? Based on anecdotal stories from my old colleagues at Briar Woods we are not going too like the answer to that.

    School boards are going to have to muscle the superintendents across the state to formulate real post covid plans with teeth. They need to do this now based on the inch worm pace of progress it took to hatch this fall’s plans.

  12. I agree with Jame’s take on Matt Hurts exceptionally informed and useful comment, the key take-away being:

    “For those kids of doctors, lawyers, and the like, the main problem associated with virtual instruction is the inconvenience experienced by the parents to ensure that their kids are doing their work. For the kids of parents who do not value education, it is entirely a different story. Many of these kids have not engaged at all this year, despite being enrolled. The folks in our schools are really bending over backwards to try to get these kids to participate. This is the biggest complaint that I hear from both teachers and administrators.”

    Hence the critical importance of James suggestion: “School boards are going to have to muscle the superintendents across the state to formulate real post covid plans with teeth.”

    The irony here is that leftist politicians, teacher’s unions, and administrators now are fouling their own nest to the point of destroying it.

    Or, from the perspective of the bird, one might say that this cabal of leftist politicians, unions and administrators now are killing their goose that lays their golden eggs.

    Translation:

    Public education in many parts of the state, most all of them blue, are in free fall.

    Meanwhile public education most rural and red parts of the state are experiencing a renaissance of K-12 education, public and private alike.

    What a great lesson this is for our future!!!

    So who needs to step up and quite literally save Virginia’s public education from the maws of Virginia’s current leftist regime? The answer is obvious. So is the opportunity.

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