New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | February 26, 2021

Mixed messages, concerns raised by New Kent school staff through letter at board meeting; superintendent recommends $33.6 million budget for FY2021-22

By Robb Johnson | February 17, 2021 8:11 am

As schools around Virginia began to implement in-person return for students, concerns from teachers and staff workers in New Kent have come to the forefront.

Tuesday night’s school board work session revolved around mixed messages being sent to workers that have raised red flags.

Employees sent an anonymous letter to the school board with concerns about a submission from District 2 representative Kristin Swynford that was posted in the Chronicle. Employees questioned Swynford on her comments about employees not operating on the same team. Staff members commented in their letter that continuous instructional changes have been difficult and that the failure rates for online learning have been about the same in comparison to in-person learning. The letter also charges that teachers and staff “are very tired of being insulted by the community and board members who claim that students are failing and not learning.”

The next issue arose when staff members spoke about sports teams gathering for pictures without wearing any masks, a sentiment that District 5 representative Gail Hardinge has been very poignant about on social media and in the board meeting. Hardinge posted several pictures of New Kent teams and expressed concern about safely reopening if groups are not taking protocols seriously. She followed that up by saying that 46 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Hardinge said that prior to the holidays, five students had tested positive for the virus and now that number is 43.

District 1 representative Wayne Meade commented that the dialogue is needed because mixed messages have been set since the start of the Coronavirus issue since March 2020.

“As the Governor [Northam] and Department of Education have been doing, they have gone along with these messages because they don’t know either,” Meade commented. “They don’t know how to mitigate a disease that has never been in the United States. For anybody to act like we are experts, then we are fooling ourselves.”

The District 1 representative also criticized the Center of Disease and Control (CDC) that have now states that teachers do not need a vaccine to return to work. The frustrations continued as the return-to-learn update was presented by Superintendent of Schools Brian Nichols.
Nichols said that new CDC guidelines say that vaccinated people do not have to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated with at least two weeks since their final dose, are within three months of receiving their final dose, or have remained asymptomatic if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Cohort 4 (grade 4-6 and grade 9) are scheduled to have the option to return to buildings on March 1. Learning times for virtual students at secondary schools (7:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m.) and elementary schools (9:15 a.m.-3:15 p.m.) will mirror in-person learning times. The superintendent also presented a mask policy and consequences for violations for both students and employees. A decision on Cohort 5 (grades 7-8, 10-12) will be determined at the March 1 regular school board meeting.

In one final note, the superintendent presented his first numbers at the FY2021-22 budget. Nichols is recommending a budget of 33,657,482 for the upcoming school year.

Upon recommendations include increasing salaries for teachers and hiring nearly 15 new positions that include three teachers at the secondary level, a high school counselor, two elementary school teachers, and additional staff. Additional costs expected include tuition increases at Bridging Communities Career and Technical Center, Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School, Maggie Walker Governor’s School, technology upgrades, and custodial services.