Commentary: Parent and School Board Tensions Could Be Eased by School Choice

Young girl in pink long sleeve writing

Public education has been under the microscope lately, especially since many states shut down in-person learning last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. With children learning from home via technology, many parents had the chance to hear what their children’s teachers were saying—and they didn’t always like it. In fact, many were downright disturbed by what public schools were teaching their children.

Parents should not be forced to sit by and watch as their children get indoctrinated with progressive ideas they don’t agree with. Assuming it is legitimate for the government—that is, the taxpayers—to fund education, the government should distribute those funds directly to parents in the form of vouchers and allow them to choose where to educate their children. Not only would this allow for more choice in schools, but it would also reduce much of the conflict we are seeing today between parents and school boards across the country.

A common response to voucher proposals is that they would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private religious schools, thus violating separation of church and state. In other words, atheists and progressives argue that they should not have to financially support schools that teach students religious worldviews.

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School Board Politics Underlie Virginia Beach House Races

Virginia Beach has several competitive House of Delegates races where Republicans hope to make gains that will help power them to a House of Delegates majority.  GOP candidates are focusing on a mix of law-and-order and education policy in a city where school board politics underlie several of the local House races.

In HD 83, Attorney Tim Anderson is challenging Delegate Nancy Guy (D-Virginia Beach), a former school board member. In the past, Anderson has endorsed and legally represented School Board Member Victoria Manning, a member of a conservative minority faction on the school board. Manning herself has pushed for recalls of her fellow school board members, including Vice Chair Kim Melnyk, who is challenging Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) in HD 84. Additionally, 2020 school board candidate Jeffrey Feld is challenging Delegate Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) in HD 81.

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Virginia Beach School Board Member Leading Recall Effort Against Six Other Members

Virginia Beach School Board Member Victoria Manning is one of the leaders of a group trying to recall six other school board members. Students First VA (SFVA) announced this week that it is collecting signature for the recalls, focusing on 2020-2021 virtual learning.

“We believe that students should always be first and that the goal of the school system, the goal of the board, the goal of the administration, the goal of the teachers should be to put those interests above all else. And we’re not convinced that’s been done around the state, but especially focused here in Virginia Beach,” SFVA President Tim Mack told The Virginia Star. “If you look both at the recall petition themselves as well as our website and other sources, you’ll see that the school board certainly had information to make a different decision than it did and decided to close schools against the wishes of parents, against the direction of local physicians, and healthcare providers, as well as the CDC. And we think that those decisions were not good for all the students in the school, in particular, those with special needs.”

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Virginia Schools 2020-2021 Standard of Learning Tests Results Unsurprisingly Low

Virginia’s 2020-2021 standards of learning (SOL) pass rates are low: 69.34 percent for reading, 54.18 percent for mathematics, and 59.45 percent for science, according to Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) data released Thursday. The VDOE emphasizes that those results are due to COVID-19 and related factors, and followed national trends.

“Pass rates reflect disruptions to instruction caused by the pandemic, decreased participation in state assessment programs, pandemic-related declines in enrollment, fewer retakes, and more flexible ‘opt-out’ provisions for parents concerned about community spread of COVID-19,” the VDOE said.

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Open FCPS Submits 5,000 Signatures to Recall Fairfax School Board Member Elaine Tholen

Elaine Tholen for Fairfax County School Board, Dranesville

The Open FCPS Coalition submitted signatures to recall Fairfax County Public School Board Member Elaine Tholen on Monday. The petitions were launched during frustration about the school’s pandemic virtual learning policies.

“Today symbolizes the culmination of collective efforts of dozens of volunteers and thousands of parents, all to send a clear message to the Fairfax County School Board that our community must return to the business of putting the education and well-being of children first,” Open FCPS member Ian Tompkins said in a Monday press conference.

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Open Fairfax County Public School Board Coalition Collecting Signatures to Recall Three School Board Members

Fairfax County Public School Board

A group of parents is collecting signatures to recall three members of the Fairfax County Public School Board (FCPS). FCPS has announced plans to have five-days-a-week, in-person school in the upcoming school year. But the Open FCPS Coalition is still seeking to recall Springfield District Member Laura Jane Cohen, Dranesville District Member Elaine Tholen, and At-Large Member Abrar Omeish.

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Albemarle County Schools to Offer Optional Virtual Learning Alongside In-Person Learning in 2021-2022

Alongside five-days-a-week in-person instruction, Albemarle County is planning to offer an optional all-virtual school for elementary, middle, and high school students for the 2021-2022 school year. The virtual school will have its own principal and teachers, according to an Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) press release.

“My recommendation will be that our school board approve this plan as the default unless, of course, circumstances materially change,” ACPS Superintendent Matthew Haas said in the press release.

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Virginia Department of Education Announces Guidelines for Reopening Schools

The Virginia Department of Education announced a new set of guidelines for school reopening, the result of a workgroup created in February. The guidelines include recommendations for remediating learning loss, note that virtual learning doesn’t work for every students, calls for special attention for vulnerable populations, and say that more staff may be needed to keep student-teacher ratios low.

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New Mission PAC Hosts GOP Gubernatorial Forum

GOP gubernatorial candidates Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Peter Doran, Sergio de la Peña, and Glenn Youngkin met on Zoom on Thursday evening to answer policy questions about school reform, fixing Virginia’s tax code, improving broadband access, and making Virginia more veteran friendly. The New Mission PAC hosted the forum. PAC founder Daniel Gade and former Delegate Chris Saxman asked the questions in a format designed to allow candidates to demonstrate policy positions without engaging in direct debate.

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Delegate McNamara Sponsors Bill Allowing Schools to Replace Snow Days with Remote Learning Days

Delegate Joseph McNamara’s (R-Roanoke) HB 1790 will allow public schools to declare unscheduled remote learning days instead of snow days — but he’s not trying to eradicate snow days.

“I want kids to have snow days, and I want them to go out and build snowmen, and throw snow balls and have grilled cheese sandwiches,” he said. “I’ll use Roanoke County as an example. Several years back, they missed about 13 days of school in about a month and a half period. And when you have situations where you have ice in the mountains areas and kids can’t get back in to school for days sometimes, it’s not really a snow day. It’s a nasty, ugly day, and so this would give schools another opportunity.”

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Governor Northam Wants Virginia Schools to Provide In-Person Option by March 15

Governor Ralph Northam wants Virginia’s schools to provide in-person learning options by March 15, one year and two days after first ordering schools to close on March 13, 2020. On Friday, the governor sent a letter to school districts instructing them to provide in-person options and encouraged the schools to develop learning-loss mitigation strategies.

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Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate Kirk Cox Calls for Next Steps to Address Learning Losses from Virtual Classes

Virginia’s Democratic leadership is finally starting to call for a return to in-person learning, but gubernatorial candidate Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) is calling for immediate next steps to address learning losses caused by virtual learning. In a Thursday press conference, Cox laid out his proposals, including expanding availability of tutors, assessing learning loss, and providing financial support to parents for remedial materials.

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Henrico Public Schools Delays In-person Learning for All Grades Due to COVID-19 Numbers

Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) on Tuesday announced that it is delaying in-person learning for all grade levels indefinitely because of local coronavirus numbers, just a week after pushing back the return to classrooms for elementary school students.

In an online message to families, Superintendent Amy Cashwell initially said the delay had to do with the school division’s nurses being pulled away from their regular duties to assist in administering vaccinations for teachers and other Virginians included within Phase 1b of the state’s plan.

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Bipartisan Group of Senators Call for Governor to Reopen Virginia’s Schools

Three Virginia state Senators called for Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday to reopen public schools across the Commonwealth and mandate in-person learning as an option for families struggling with virtual instruction. 

Just hours before the General Assembly kicked off its 2021 session, Senators Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond City), Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) held a press conference to discuss the matter.

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Virginia Teachers Union President Calls for All-Virtual Learning Until School Staff get Vaccinated

Virginia Education Association (VEA) president James Fedderman wants public schools in the Commonwealth to go to fully virtual learning until teachers and school staff receive vaccinations to stop the spread coronavirus in schools.

Fedderman asked the governor and school leaders around the state to facilitate the instructional switch in a video published to the VEA website on Friday.

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COVID-19 Accelerates Harrisonburg City Schools Plan to Increase Outdoor Learning

COVID-19 is accelerating Harrisonburg City Schools’ push for more outdoor classrooms. At a school board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Michael Richards said outdoor classrooms would provide more space for safe in-person classes. But Richards said the plan isn’t just a temporary plan to solve a problem caused by the pandemic.

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Henrico Public Schools Delay Return to In-Person Learning Because of COVID

Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) announced on Tuesday that the division is delaying the return to in-person learning for pre-kindergarten and elementary school students until the end of January because of the area’s current COVID-19 numbers.

HCPS Superintendent Amy Cashwell made the announcement and discussed the subsequent changes to the timeline for returning to the classroom in an online message to families.

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Commentary: Zoom School Gets an ‘F,’ But Some Online Learning Providers Excel

Students in 40 percent of school districts across the country haven’t been inside a classroom since last spring, and others are now returning to virtual “Zoom school” as coronavirus cases rise. Remote public schooling as a response to school shutdowns has been a disaster for many children, with a record number of F grades issued this academic year. Both parents and kids are fed up with Zoom school, and teachers are frustrated with it as well. The Washington Post ran a headline this month saying we must finally admit that “remote education is a failure.”

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Arlington, Virginia Students Receiving More Failing Grades During Pandemic Than Before

Secondary students attending Arlington Public Schools (APS) are earning more failing grades during the coronavirus pandemic than in previous years, new data shows, further highlighting the negative impact virtual learning can have on certain students.

The data was presented in an internal report released online on Thursday that compared APS middle school and high school student’s quarter one grades from 2020-21 to quarter one grades from 2018-19 and 2019-20.

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Richmond Mom Accessed Explicit Content on School-Issued Virtual Learning Computer

Richmond Public Schools (RPS) has tightened content filtering restrictions on school computers after Janet Kelly discovered she could access explicit YouTube content on her elementary-aged son’s computer. Kelly is pleased that the school responded to her concerns, but she’s worried about long-term harms linked to having children in front of computers constantly for virtual learning.

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Virginia Parents Start a Petition Demanding for Williamsburg-James City County Students to Return to School

More than 500 people have signed an online petition created last week asking for students of Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCCPS) to be allowed to return to classes on January 12.

“The devastating impact “virtual learning” has had on some students and parents alike can no longer be ignored and it is time for the WJCC School Board to address these concerns. Many schools in Virginia and around the Country have remained open while following CDC guidelines and it is time for WJCC schools to follow suit,” Joseph Nickerson said on the Moveon.org petition he created.

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Virginia Teachers Union Calls for Statewide Virtual Instruction Until Mid-January

The Virginia Education Association (VEA) is calling for all public schools in the Commonwealth to switch to virtual instruction for the next month because of the recent rise in COVID-19 numbers throughout the state. 

VEA President Dr. James Fedderman issued the statement online Thursday. 

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No In-Person Classes in Virginia’s Capital: Richmond Public Schools to Remain Virtual for Spring Semester

Richmond Public Schools (RPS) will continue with virtual learning only for the rest of the 2020-21 academic year.

During a Monday night meeting, the RPS School Board voted 8-1 to keep students away from the classroom for another several months after Superintendent Jason Kamras gave a presentation and recommended the school district remain virtual.

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After Teacher ‘Sick-Out’ Fizzles, Students Return to In-Person Learning in Chesterfield County

An anticipated organized ‘sick-out’ by Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) teachers did not develop Monday, as the last cohort of students returned to in-person classes. This week, grades 6-12 are entering a hybrid in-person program where students are in-person two days a week, according to documentation from the school board. Younger students have already returned. Parents were given the choice to opt-in to the hybrid program.

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Kamras ‘Not Optimistic’ About Reopening Richmond Schools

Richmond Public Schools (RPS) Jason Kamras told reporters that he doesn’t expect RPS to reopen even after winter break, unlike Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, according to reporting from WTVR. The two neighboring counties recently announced plans to begin allowing students back into classes as soon as November.

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Henrico Public Schools Adopt Return to Classes Plan, Say Families Must Make Year-long Commitment

The Henrico County School Board adopted a plan last week allowing an optional return to classrooms for younger students later this fall and older students in early 2021, but at a town hall meeting on Tuesday school leaders said whichever choice families make, either virtual or in-person learning, will be a year-long commitment.

While answering submitted questions from parents, Dr. Thomas Ferrell Jr., Henrico director of high school education, brought up the stipulation that families’ choice of learning model would be binding, except for specific instances.

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Henrico Parents Demand Kids Go Back to School

After polling parents and holding a public forum, the Henrico County School Board voted 4-1 Thursday for an optional plan to allow in-person learning. The phased approach will allow Pre-K through 2nd grade students to return to school four days a week starting November 30. Grades 3-5 would return on December 7, and older students will return in February.

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Virtual Learning Workload Overwhelms Loudoun County Students

Citing overwhelming virtual education workloads, over 13,000 people have signed a change.org petition asking Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) to reduce the amount of work the students have to do. Unlike school districts in other parts of the states, LCPS is still using a fully virtual model, driving some parents to private schools.

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Newport News Public Schools Superintendent Delays Students’ Return to Classrooms

The Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) superintendent George Parker announced Tuesday that he was postponing the plan that would have brought students back to the classroom for the first time since March.

The delay comes after the Newport News School Board voted 5-2 during its meeting last week to allow for a phased return to in-person instruction for K-12 students.

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Parents Fume Over Kids Turning into Zoom Zombies

The Richmond Public Schools (RPS) leadership team presented initial schedule adjustments for all grade levels to its school board during a meeting Monday night. 

The board did not vote to adopt any of the proposed scheduling adjustments. 

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Commentary: The True Impact of Virtual Learning on our Families and our Future

This morning, my son, a high school senior doing virtual learning, texted me, “I didn’t get out of bed for first period.” I replied, “Yikes!” To which he shot back, “It’s okay, I just did the class from bed.”

This cannot be a thing! Kids should not be going to school from their beds!

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Zoom Wars: Loudoun, Fairfax County Public Schools Battling Internet Security Attacks, Including Porn

Two northern Virginia school districts struggled with internet security problems in their first week.

Loudoun County Public Schools’  LCPS) virtual learning was interrupted by ten cases of people logging into classes and using racial slurs or displaying pornographic and racist imagery, according to reporting by WUSA 9.  Also last week, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) announced that they are the victims of a ransomware attack.

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VSU Will Keep Classes Online for the Fall Semester due to COVID-19 Concerns

Virginia State University (VSU) will keep all classes online and cancel student move-in because of COVID-19 concerns as more and more colleges continue to experience outbreaks across the country.

In a video and letter released Monday, VSU President Makola Abdullah announced the decision and explained the reasoning behind the difficult choice.

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