School reopening a push-pull for some parents and educators

Ronald E. Carrington | 9/2/2021, 6 p.m.
After a year of virtual learning because of the coronavirus and new concerns about the highly contagious delta variant, Richmond ...

After a year of virtual learning because of the coronavirus and new concerns about the highly contagious delta variant, Richmond Public Schools students, teachers, staff and contractors must mask up as schools open next Wednesday, Sept. 8.

The reopening is a push-pull for some parents and education professionals as health and safety are major concerns weighted against the importance of stu- dents returning to the classroom for in- person learning after a roughly 18-month absence and very little social interaction with friends and others.

Because the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t approved for use among children under age 12, health issues may be a challenge as the number of young children infected with the virus has risen across the state.

The community has continued its support of RPS students and teachers with school supplies drives, new shoe giveaways and meal cards placed among the supplies in the thousands of backpacks collected to be distributed to students from the 4th Annual Ultimate Backpack Supply Drive hosted by the VCU Alumni Association, Communi- ties In School and CoStar Group.

Many students and parents are excited for the return to classroom, including Amy Wentz, whose daughter, Zoe Wright, will be a second-grader at J.L. Francis Elementary

School in South Side. Ms. Wentz said hav- ing her daughter in school not only helps with her academic development, but aids in her social development and skills.

“It is also very important for Zoe to have interactions with her teachers,” Ms. Wentz said, adding that getting up in the morning for school, going to the bus and being on a schedule “helps with discipline and provides a daily routine.”

“That helps children and gives them pride in themselves,” Ms. Wentz said, noting that during virtual learning, her daughter merely got up on school days, cleaned her teeth and then got on her laptop for online class.

“Zoe was getting lazy,” she said.

Ms. Wentz also said it is difficult for her young daughter to keep her mask on. “But I think she understands how important it is because we have recently had family that have gotten sick from COVID,” Ms. Wentz said. “J.L. Francis teachers don’t play. When they tell Zoe to keep her mask on, she’s going to keep it on.”

David F. Jones Sr., founder of the TH-JAW Foundation whose mission is to motivate and mentor student athletes in RPS high schools, said the foundation’s programs were suspended last year because of the coronavirus and the shutdown of schools.

He is looking forward to the reopening for a new academic year. RPS football got

underway last Friday, Aug. 27.

“Sports give students a positive outlet to

focus on something other than school, as well as getting them away from being on the computer all day,” Mr. Jones said.

As a former high school coach, Mr. Jones said, “The biggest challenge is cleanliness and precaution against disease—even before COVID. Coaches always tried to get players to understand the importance of cleaning and sanitizing their equipment every day.

“This is a challenge for city schools, as the counties have people performing those services for them,” he said.

He said the foundation will wait to restart its program “until RPS settles into reopening and (we) see how COVID affects the district’s athletic program. We want to make sure our plans do not hinder RPS in any way.”

Richmond City Council President Cyn- thia I. Newbille said COVID-19 taught many lessons.

“We learned how invaluable an in-person learning environment truly is across many domains,” she said.

The upside of schools reopening, Dr. Newbille said, is that “our children will be absolutely excited to see their friends and see their teachers. At the same time, I think they are going to have a new nor- mal in school, as we truly understand the importance of in-person learning.”