Richmond Public Schools Show No Progress on Staff COVID Vaccinations

by James C. Sherlock

Last updated Just 15 at 4:16 PM

I have long taken a personal interest in the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). Its students have a right under the Virginia constitution to a quality education that they are systematically denied. RPS has utterly failed to educate the children under its care. The proof is in the Virginia Department of Education’s School Quality Report.

The Board of Education dutifully reports that fact every year to the Governor and the General Assembly — another constitutional requirement. Neither takes effective action.

Now most of RPS school personnel have failed to get vaccinated. School starts next month.

Action is warranted. None appears in the offing.

Background. In the last year of valid SOL results, 2018-19, only 56% of those eligible among RPS’s nearly 25,000 students passed SOLs in English reading, 52% in English writing, 56% in math, 60% in science and 55% in history. Pass rates.

It gets worse.  Enrollment was up 3,500 students in 2020-21.

RPS urgently needs new leadership at the principal level and a radical culling of failed teachers. That need was not lessened by its highest-in-the-state 18:1 student:teacher ration in 2018-19.

If Richmond schools are not improved, the governments of Virginia and Richmond — meaning majority of voters in each — will be complicit.

The federal government sends money. Of the 87 ESSA support schools in Virginia in 2020-21, 19 of them were in Richmond.

The Northam Administration sends the money on to Richmond. Where it apparently evaporates.

Learning climate in Richmond schools? Fifteen percent chronic absenteeism. But with 8,716 reportable student offenses, it is hard to imagine why chronic absenteeism wasn’t far higher.

Weapons offenses — 95.  Offenses against staff — 343.

Where is the Northam administration’s Board of Education on all of this? You know the answer to that. It seeks ” equity of opportunity and outcome for all of Virginia’s students.”

More money is of course “needed.” No amount will ever be considered enough. No matter how badly it is spent.

“The teacher shortage issue is particularly acute in those areas that need strong teachers the most – the relatively poor and under-resourced divisions have the most difficulty attracting and retaining quality teaching professionals.”

That, and all of those pesky student weapons offenses.

So why pause for this background? To frame today’s issue.

School Staff Vaccination Policies. The latest published fully-vaccinated rate (source data – June 7) for the staff of Richmond’s schools is 21% – 21%. Note in the data that the figures (needle?) had not moved since April 21.

How, by any standard of leadership and management, is that possible?

The New York Times wrote that schools can require vaccinations, citing a century-old Supreme Court decision.

Government entities like school boards and the Army can require vaccinations for entry, service and travel — practices that flow from a 1905 Supreme Court ruling that said states could require residents to be vaccinated against smallpox or pay a fine.

“A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the 1905 case.

Any such mandate will wind up in court, so might as well get started.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied to the FDA for full approval. Dr. Fauci said on July 13:

“The data are about as good as it gets. … I would be astounded if these vaccines, namely the mRNA and the J&J, didn’t get full approval.”

The vaccines will get priority review. The agency’s goal  is to make a decision within six months of submission.

That means the FDA would decide on full approval by January 2022 for the Pfizer vaccine and February 2022 for the Moderna vaccine. Early in the Spring semester of public schools.

From VDOE Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane January 26, 2021:

The VDOE is requesting weekly reports from local school divisions regarding the provision of vaccinations to school staff. This weekly survey is intended to provide the state with timely information and may inform statewide strategies and interventions as well as support needed by local school divisions on the provision of vaccines and related issues.

We saw RPS latest weekly survey above — 21% of school personnel fully vaccinated.

This brings up several questions:

  1. Will the FDA speed full approval of the two COVID vaccines given the unprecedented amount of evidence from the millions of shots already given?
  2. Will the VDOE announce soon its policy on a requirement for school personnel vaccination so that school districts and personnel can rely on it for their own decisions?
  3. Will school boards deal now with the inevitability of vaccine full approval and set policies so that school staff can know what is coming?
  4. What is wrong in Richmond that its encouragement of school staff to get vaccinated has fallen so flat?

Enforce the Virginia Constitution. This specific issue is another indicator of the lack of motivation to act, even in self interest, by Richmond schools personnel that demonstrates the crushing dysfunctionality of that system.

Let’s go to the Virginia Constitution:

Article VIII. Education

Section 1. Public schools of high quality to be maintained.

The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.

Section 2. Standards of quality; State and local support of public schools.

Standards of quality for the several school divisions shall be determined and prescribed from time to time by the Board of Education, subject to revision only by the General Assembly.

Section 5. Powers and duties of the Board of Education.
The powers and duties of the Board of Education shall be as follows:

(b) It shall make annual reports to the Governor and the General Assembly concerning the condition and needs of public education in the Commonwealth, and shall in such report identify any school divisions which have failed to establish and maintain schools meeting the prescribed standards of quality.

The Board of Education dutifully specified in its 2020 Annual Report that Richmond Public Schools were non-compliant with a long list of Standards of Quality. (It was not the only division.)

The clear expectation of the constitution is that, when notified, the Governor and General Assembly will act to correct non-compliance with the constitution that they have sworn to defend and protect.

Yet we see both of those branches ignore hard evidence that a quality education is not being made available to students in Richmond Public Schools.

We are left to wonder what the courts would do with that same evidence.

A Virginia Constitutional Amendment. We need an amendment to the Virginia Constitution that will enable the state to take over such an utterly failed system and a mechanism under law and regulation that would execute the takeover.

Bottom line. The City of Richmond has shown little inclination and no capability to offer a quality education to its children. Now the staff of its public schools won’t get vaccinated.

The government of Virginia needs to step up.

  1. The AG should be asked by a Member of the General Assembly to render an opinion on the legality of requiring vaccinations of school staff.  By law he will be required to do so.
  2. The Governor should call a special session of the General Assembly to address providing a quality education to every child in Virginia in accordance with the Standards of Quality. First order of business — a constitutional amendment authorizing and legislation implementing state take over of failed school districts. He won’t do it and this General Assembly would not vote for either.
  3. The Attorney General should sue the Richmond School Board and ask a judge to remove them and ban them from future office for violating the constitution. If he does not somehow have that authority, the General Assembly should give it to him. The current AG won’t do it regardless.
  4. VDOE needs to clearly state what its policy on vaccination will be when the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are fully approved. I hope we will see it.

The children of Richmond have waited long enough for state action.

It will take a new Governor, a new General Assembly and a new Attorney General to help them get it.