LCPS Parents for a 5 Day School Week
LCPS Parent Petition for a 4-5 Day School Week for Lunenburg County Public Schools for the Fall of 2020
Dear Superintendent Berkley, LCPS School Board, and other key Stakeholders,
The purpose of this petition is to urge the Lunenburg County School System to hold in-person instruction for elementary, middle, and high school students (K-12) during a 4-5 day school week for the upcoming 2020-2021 Academic Year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a time of great uncertainty, the likes of which none of us have ever experienced before. While we all navigate this new environment, it is important that we take stock of what we do know, up to this point, and look at how we got here.
In March of 2020, school systems statewide were abruptly closed in reaction to the emerging Covid-19 pandemic. Virginia was one of the first states to shutter schools. Many systems made an attempt to switch to a virtual learning environment, but with limited planning and resources in our rural county, this essentially amounted to an early closure for the year, especially for Early Education students. At the time, there was a great deal of fear and uncertainty about what Covid-19 would be and the decision to close schools was appropriate given what was known at the time.
On June 17th, 2020, LCPS issued a parent survey, where LCPS parents were asked to state their preference for a blended in-person/virtual learning environment, or a completely virtual environment for their children. No additional details were given, leaving parents guessing as to what each option would look like, or what specific services or support would be provided. During the same time, the media was releasing reports on CDC guidance for what a return to school could look like - including masked teachers and staff, desks spaced far apart, no lunch or recess, etc, essentially dismantling anything that would resemble a nurturing, developmentally productive in-school environment for children.
Since then, utilizing data made available by the Virginia Department of Health, total active Covid-19 infections peaked at the end of May and have been on the decline since. During the same time period, testing has increased dramatically statewide, and the Governor has allowed the Commonwealth to proceed into Phase 3 status as of July 1st, 2020. There is no “Phase 4” planned at this time, and the guidelines issued by the Governor’s office and the Board of Education have since clarified that these guidelines are just that, NOT mandates. The dramatic increase in testing is resulting in what is being characterized as a “second wave;” however, more cases being confirmed is only part of the story. Hospitalizations and deaths are down, even in the presence of the higher overall infection rate.
The impact of Covid-19 in Lunenburg County has been minuscule. As of the date of this petition (10 July 2020), we have experienced a cumulative total of 39 cases and 0 deaths since March. The infection rate here is a very, very small fraction of the population and continues to be, in spite of readily available and effective testing in the county.
While any casualties from Covid-19 are tragic, a lowering % positivity rate in testing, decreasing hospitalization rate, and decreasing death rate combined with an increase in total testing means that the virus is, thankfully, FAR less impactful than was originally feared.
Back to School!
The prospect of a blended or totally virtual environment for early-education students would be a challenge for most households at best, and completely, utterly untenable at worst. The challenges for a virtual environment include, but are not limited to the following:
- A virtual learning environment does not lend itself to meaningful interactions between teachers and students especially at the early education level.
- Internet access is severely limited, cost prohibitive, or totally unavailable in many areas of the county.
- Many households have two working parents who build their schedules and child care arrangements around the school day and cannot devote several hours a day to direct supervision and instruction. This is even less tenable to single-parent households.
- Parents with varying levels of education and abilities will result in some students being at a significant advantage over others, further expanding the achievement gap among the student body.
- Fine tuning teaching methods to suit the learning styles of students is extremely limited in a virtual environment. The logistical concerns and the time demand that would be placed on students and teachers to provide individualized attention in a virtual environment is completely untenable and unrealistic; therefore, virtual learning almost certainly will provide little of the same.
- School-age childcare has been limited in the county in previous times, and will be even more so as Covid-19 restrictions continue. Schools being closed to the majority of the student body on any given day of the week will result in many students being placed in a day-care environment in close proximity with other non-related children, or left completely unsupervised, thus negating the rationale for closing schools to begin with, while needlessly causing the developmental and academic damage that would be the result of what has been discussed above.
- The blended learning environment, at 2 days a week, could mitigate some of the issues outlined above, but is not enough to fully serve the needs of all students.
The impact of the options being proposed need to be weighed against the actual threat of Covid-19 itself. The data says that children have been mostly unaffected by the virus. At-risk individuals should take measures to protect themselves and arrangements should be made to accommodate their needs, just as they have in the past when faced with allergies or other health issues. The rest of the student body however cannot be expected to continue to put their development on hold for the sake of a few individuals, and out of fear of what the data does not support.
We as parents will not tolerate decisions which will impact our children that are politically motivated or based on irrational fear.
As a rural district with limited resources and a large under served population, we risk placing a whole generation of children ever further behind the curve, many of whom already existed in an underprivileged situation prior to Covid-19. The schools are a safe-haven for at-risk children and are critical to the development of those with special needs. The decisions we make will be paid for at a disproportionately higher rate by those groups of students. Are we prepared to place the cost of our fear or inability to adapt upon them?
LCPS: Please support your students and your families, and provide the in-person instruction which is your duty to provide!