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Parents in the Valley demand virtual learning options

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 4:41 PM EDT
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WAYNESBORO, Va. (WHSV) - As students return to the classroom, some parents worry for their children’s safety, and they are asking for virtual learning options.

On top of that, some parents are concerned over the lack of substitute teachers and proper social distancing.

Chanda McGuffin says she didn’t think anything of it when her son spent a class period in the auditorium at Waynesboro High School last week. But when he came home Friday and said he’d spent most of the day in the auditorium, she says she was concerned.

“He didn’t have one teacher present,” McGuffin said.

The Waynesboro School Board Chair, Diana Williams, said the auditorium has been used as a flexible space.

“The auditorium, we knew we might have to use as a flexible space for whatever reason, and that’s how it’s being used,” Williams said.

Principal of Waynesboro High School Bryan Stamm says the auditorium was a place for students to continue their work while being observed by teachers or subs.

“Students have their Chromebooks and other class materials and continue to work on their classwork while in the auditorium,” Stamm said in a statement.

McGuffin says she was also concerned about the number of students her son was exposed to in the auditorium.

“You’d think he’s in there with the same 80 to 100 kids. No, one class leaves out, another class filters back in. So he could possibly been impacted by 200, 300 kids,” McGuffin said.

Stamm says seating was restricted and students were properly distanced.

“The auditorium seating is marked so students are appropriately distanced,” Stamm said.

Williams says the auditorium has plenty of space to accommodate the classes.

“80 to 90 people in a thousand-seat auditorium, I’m not sure that’s something to be very concerned about.”

Many parents are also asking local schools to offer virtual instruction. Senate Bill 1303 states schools must offer in-person instruction and must follow CDC guidelines in regards to health and safety measures.

Waynesboro City Schools Executive Director of Student Services Dr. Ryan Barber says offering virtual instruction is a local decision.

“We are not offering a virtual option because we do not have the personnel resources to provide both in-person and virtual instruction,” Barber said.

Dannielle Henderson of Waynesboro says she has pulled her kids out of public school and will be homeschooling them.

“If these parents feel okay with sending their kids to school, allow them to, but if there are some parents who don’t want their kids to go to school, give them that virtual option,” Henderson said.

Williams says their COVID-19 case numbers are good, and she says their efforts are working.

“There was no way I was going into this year with the belief that we were never going to have a COVID case because that’s just not realistic; however, our mitigation strategies are sound, and our low positivity rate is proof that it’s working,” Williams said.

Charrita Bryant says she’s worried about her kids falling behind because of contact tracing protocol.

“They want them in school 180 days in the school year, but how is that possible that they can be home for two weeks and go back to school, and another case comes and they’re back out again,” Henderson said. “It’s frustrating. You want your children to be safe.”

Allison Profeta of Staunton says it’s a question of equity.

“When you’re talking about parents who actively live in poverty, and during the best of times they’re worried about their kids getting sick and how they’re going to take time off if their kid gets sick. I mean, this is how colds typically get spread in schools. Parents don’t have the proper support, and they can’t stay home with their kids. This is not a cold. This is a deadly virus,” Profeta said. “Now parents have to worry, ‘what happens if my kid gets sick?’ It doesn’t affect every child the same way.”

Lori Mier of Rockingham says they just started school Monday, but she’s been watching other counties.

“For us to just go right back into schools knowing what’s going around in surrounding counties has really hit me,” Mier said.

Mier says she took her son out of school Sunday, saying she wanted to protect other kids, too.

“If we have less kids in school, as we did last year, we will be able to manage it better,” Mier said.

Williams says if parents are concerned about their students, they should contact the principal since they know the situation best.

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