AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Richmond County School Board members continue to wait to make a final decision on whether the 2020-2021 school year will be completely virtual or incorporate in-person learning.
It’s getting down to the wire and Richmond County School System is the only district in the CSRA still deciding on a definitive plan for students this school year.
NewsChannel 6 wanted to hear cases for both sides, in person learning and virtual.
School Board Vice President Venus Cain told us, “I do not want to get another email informing me that a staff member has died or child has gotten sick.”
Richmond County School Board Members voted down the face to face option during a late Tuesday night meeting. It’s still on the table, although some board members are waiting on COVID-19 numbers to be reported in the next few weeks.
Cain explained, “We have another holiday coming up first. With that holiday, just like I predicted our last holiday, your numbers are either going to spike, or they are going to go down. Our numbers spiked.”
While Cain said she wants school to start Sept. 21 with a 30 day evaluation period to see those post-holiday numbers, Helen Minchew said kids are at risk as well as their parents in the community.
“We’re all at risk. When we go shopping, if we go to the grocery stores, these people who go to the bars who have no face mask on packed beyond the guidelines. That is where the spread is happening,” said Minchew who represents District 10.
She added that some parents she spoke with need in person learning.
“Some have to work and then some parents it’s very difficult to try to navigate online,” she said of virtual learning. “We’ve got grandparents with children.”
We reached out to parents as well to get their thoughts. Monique Braswell said she has underlying health conditions, so initially she planned to keep her rising first grader at home.
“I seen on the plan partitions for the smaller kids, they’re prepared with the buses with sanitize stations, they had the temperature checks. Patsy Scott asked Dr. Bradshaw to bring extra nurses in the school. That plan is a great plan,” Braswell applauded.
The district spells out how face-to-face learning will work in a 4 minute video, a tool Braswell said changed her mind though her home is ready to go completely virtual, if needed.
Another Richmond County parent, Jo’Be Sullivan said she prefers her 5-year-old to head to kindergarten class.
“Virtual learning is going to be difficult because my schedule is such that I work while he’s in school,” said Sullivan, a single parent.
She added she will need to rely on daycare if virtual learning is the only option for students this year. It’s an issue Governor Brian Kemp hopes to address by providing funding and technology for districts that lag behind such as Richmond County.
But it’s not just a scheduling issue for Sullivan, she told us her son thrives in the classroom setting.
“My son is actually advanced in his learning and it has helped him tremendously to be in a classroom setting with other children where if someone else doesn’t understand, he’s able to help them,” she said.
Braswell issued a call to action for Mayor Hardie Davis to shut the city down again just so kids can safely return to school next month.
The School Board meets September 1 to continue its back to school discussion.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps