Kamras, the schools and COVID-19

2/11/2021, 6 p.m.
Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras got what he wanted this week when the Richmond School Board voted to extend his ...

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras got what he wanted this week when the Richmond School Board voted to extend his contract for four years.

With the problems and expectations facing the public school system, Mr. Kamras will be earning his $250,000 salary.

Richmond Public Schools will be under scrutiny by state officials, as Mr. Kamras and many others don’t believe the school system will be ready to reopen by the March 15 deadline Gov. Ralph S. Northam set for Virginia’s public schools to restart in-person learning, even if only in part.

COVID-19 has served to further highlight the dilapidated condition of Richmond’s school buildings that may be hazardous to students’, teachers’ and staff health in this pandemic with a potentially fatal virus that is spread through air particles. Even with the completion of three new school buildings last fall, Richmond’s largely aged school structures will need work on air quality systems, installation of classroom windows that open and bathrooms that provide adequate water and soap for hand-washing before students, teachers and staff can return safely.

Mr. Kamras told the School Board this week that schools won’t be ready to reopen until June. He said RPS also is awaiting federal CARES Act money to help pay for the changes.

He and the board also discussed other obstacles blocking immediate reopening, including transportation issues and incomplete but ongoing efforts to fully vaccinate teachers, staff and bus drivers.

We believe safety is paramount when it comes to reopening schools. And while we agree with Gov. Northam that children learn better in classrooms and we worry about the learning gap that may accompany this length of time in virtual learning, we believe RPS must ensure a safe and healthy environment for students before they can return.

The majority of the students attending RPS are Black and Latino, populations that have been disproportionately represented by COVID-19 cases and deaths. RPS must be able to assure students and their families that attending school won’t be a daily superspreader event, with the dreaded possibility of taking the virus home.

We hope the state will see this as an opportunity to work with Richmond and other similarly situated school districts and provide the funding and help they need to meet the goal of reopening.

We call on Mr. Kamras and the School Board to set specific goals toward reopening and to keep all concerned — students, parents, teachers, Richmond taxpayers and others — apprised regularly of the progress.