After a three-hour meeting that saw dozens of local parents and students voice their support for an in-person learning option at the start of the coming school year, Goochland County School Board members ultimately decided that delaying the decision until the board’s Aug. 11 meeting was the only appropriate action.
The special meeting, which was held at Goochland High School on Monday night, had been scheduled in order to allow board members to vote on new plan for the start of the 2020-2021 school year, one that differed from a plan presented and agreed upon on July 14.
The original plan had outlined an opening strategy that allowed for students who chose to come back to school to have two days of in-person instructional time supplemented by virtual learning, while also permitting students to select a virtual-only option if they preferred.
As Goochland School Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Raley shared Monday night, however, recent data has led school officials to move toward an initial opening period that would see most students learning virtually from home.
It quickly became apparent that most people in attendance did not support that option, with speaker after speaker calling on board members to consider the negative consequences for students and families of continuing to keep students out of the classroom.
Initially, several board members appeared to push back against claims that the in-person option would be worth the potential risk.
District 1 representative Sandra Barefoot-Reid, a former EMT who cited her experience assessing dangerous situations and evaluating risk, did not mince words as she urged those in attendance not to forget that the virus has already taken a number of lives in Goochland County.
“Look at the statistics,” she said. “This virus is very dangerous. My first priority is the safety of our students and staff, and you can’t give someone an education if they are not alive.”
District 2 representative William Quarles also cautioned that the board was not willing to ignore a threat to public health in order to bring students back to school.
“I have heard every word you have said,” said Quarles. “The fear is real, we have a pandemic. We have to look at this from a safety standpoint or a normalcy standpoint —and normalcy is not going to happen.”
The ultimate decision, said District 3 representative Karen Horn, will be one that is based not on emotion but on the best available data.
“That’s what we do as educators,” Horn said. “We look at data, we process data, we analyze data, and we make the best decision possible.”
District 4 representative Michael Newman, who spent his career as a middle and high school principal and served as the principal of Goochland High School before retiring in 2016, said he was confident that the county could come together to find a workable solution but insisted that he was not yet sure about his own stance on virtual learning versus offering an in-person option for parents.
“My mind has been up and down and all around on this,” Newman told attendees. “I appreciate everything that has been said tonight…I know it is all heartfelt.”
After three hours of comments by both attendees and board members, it became clear that the decision would require even further consideration.
Board chairman John Wright admitted that he simply could not proceed with a vote without conferring with the other board members and taking into account all that they had heard during the meeting.
“I want to be able to look every one in the eye,” Wright said, “and say that we gave them and their views our full consideration.”