New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | January 23, 2021

Return for New Kent second and third graders back into school buildings delayed until February

By Andre Jones | January 11, 2021 11:14 pm

Second and third graders who attend elementary schools in New Kent will have to wait a little longer before having an opportunity to walk through the building doors.

For the second time in two months, New Kent’s School Board has postponed the return of second and third graders. And the decision this time was as difficult as the first time.

Originally, Cohort 3 (second and third grade students) were scheduled to return on Dec. 14, 2020. But because of the Winter holiday, school officials put the return off the return to Jan. 19, 2021. After hearing concerns from submitted comments combined with input from school principals, that date is now set for Feb. 2.

Even before New Kent Superintendent of Schools Brian Nichols provided his monthly “Return-to-Learn” update, a plethora of public comments from emails submitted by community members and teachers voiced reopening doors for students in general. Additional comments pleaded for teachers to be vaccinated prior to in-person instruction, while the upward trend of cases in the county continued to trouble school leaders.

Dialogue from school board members took flight after comments were made by New Kent Elementary School principal John Moncrief and George Watkins Elementary School principal Russ Macomber. While both continued to express safety and concern for their students and staff, they advised the board that logistically that a transition at the end of the nine weeks could be easier.

Both principals added that quarantining of staff members has become taxing on in-person instruction. While the number of staff members inside school facilities will double when second and third graders return, replacing those instructors in case another quarantine takes place would be more difficult.

“Basically, you will have double the number of employees but the same number of substitutes and paraprofessionals to fill in if we reach a point of quarantine,” Moncrief commented.

Among more logistical issues include the shift of students from one teacher to the next. At George Watkins Elementary School, 37 second graders and 31 third graders will have new teachers. Not included in that number if five students who will transfer to New Kent Elementary School for virtual instruction. At New Kent Elementary School, 39 second graders will have a new instructor, and 45 third graders will also have a new instructor.

And the part that is bothersome to both principals is that number changes every day.

“I have received three calls that parents want to put their child back in all virtual classes,” said Macomber, commenting on how the rising numbers are factoring into parents changing their minds after an initial survey was released on what students would opt for in-person/hybrid learning. “We are trying to balance out these classes as much as possible.”

School board members sat and debated on several issues regarding the latter return. For District 2 representative Kristen Swynford, one of her concerns stemmed from in-person education.

“I know this is the second time that we have pushed this back, but I look at other school districts around us that has returned to in-person instruction,” Swynford commented. “I know nobody wants to talk about it, but how long do we go sacrificing education?”

District 5 representative Gail Hardinge understood Swynford’s view, but also said that it’s a tough choice to make.

“No matter what decision we make, we’re going to be stuck,” Hardinge said. “You’re going to have those who approve of what we do and those who don’t approve what we do.”

District 1 representative Wayne Meade commented that the situation and choices to make vary by the mindset of those making them.

“It is basically risk versus reward,” he said. “It is a very challenging thing to measure. Do you bring a kid back in for education or do you sacrifice their mental well-being?”

After nearly 25 minutes on the topic after District 3 representative Andrea Staskiel made the motion to delay the return, the vote passed with a 3-2 favor for the delay. Staskiel, Hardinge, and District 4 representative Sarah Grier-Barber voted in favor, while Swynford and Meade voted against the delay.

In other school board action:

–Elected Staskiel as chairwoman for the school board in 2021, and Swynford as vice-chairwoman.

–Unanimously voted in favor to send a letter to Governor Ralph Northam prioritizing educators as one of the first groups of people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

–Announced the name of the new elementary school as Quinton Elementary School. The school will consist of murals and pictures depicting the history of New Kent County.

–Announced a redistricting meeting will be held virtually on Jan. 20 with two plans recommended to address which students will be assigned to Quinton Elementary School.