COLUMN – School plan presents many challenges

Published 11:04 am Monday, July 13, 2020

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Business is not the only thing that has changed this year because of the COVID-19 issues.

In mid-March, Gov. Ralph Northam made the decision to close our schools for the rest of the academic year.  He was the first or second governor to close schools three months in advance.  Other states made closing decisions as they watched how the virus was advancing.  In hindsight, making the decision worked out, however, it could well have been done for a few weeks and extended as other states did.


Frank Ruff Jr.

Because the governor had forced the closing of so many businesses, there were family members who were suddenly out of work or one parent was working from home.  This prevented many from having to find childcare these last several months.  However, as businesses are now reopening, childcare is going to once again become an issue if school systems follow Gov. Northam’s guidance plan.


The governor’s proposal calls for a limit of 10 students per bus.  Think about that in a rural county.  Each bus covers many roads.  Each bus has a compacity to carry about 70 students.  Limiting each bus to 10 would require each bus to make multiple routes, wasting hours that students should be class.  If the buses were cheap or even available to buy, the chances are that finding enough drivers would be unlikely.

Eight days a month

Most school systems are seriously considering using the governor’s guidelines which call for a mixture of some school in person and some online.  For counties and cities with many opportunities to receive broadband at home or within a short distance away, some online education might make some sense for older students.  In most of rural Virginia, the broadband availability might be many miles away, therefore, of little value.

For the in-school work, most systems are looking at students being in the classroom eight days a month.  Either two days a week each week or four days a week every other week. This might work with students in high school but the younger the student the bigger problem this creates.

Every teacher will tell you that kindergarten through third grade, students need to be taught hands on how to get along with others, how to learn to manage their time to be good students and to learn the basics, particularly reading skills.  If they cannot read properly in those early years, it will limit their success throughout their school years and probably their entire lives.

Bedlam For Parents And Businesses

Should schools follow through with this semi-schooling plan of Gov. Northam, businesses will be in complete disarray and possibly make staffing a business impossible.  Imagine telling your employer that you can only work eight days a month because the rest of the month you will be at home with your children.  Businesses need employees that they can rely on. They can’t function without their key employees.

No Easy Choices

Attorneys who advise school boards have advised that if the school systems do not follow the governor’s “guidance plan,” they put themselves at risk to be sued if anyone gets sick.  If they follow his plan, they would have immunity from liability.  If they develop a plan that makes sense for a locality, there is no assurance of immunity.

The problems can be solved if we work together.  I will be seeking to enable our buses to be able to carry 30 students.  This will allow the alternate use of seats.  Likewise, I will attempt to give greater immunity from lawsuits.

The fact is that school-age students are likely to be in greater risk if they are home alone with no adult supervision than they are in a structured school setting.  This is particularly important not only for younger students but also those that are experiencing learning disabilities.

Working Together

Now is an opportunity for our communities to work together to assist our young people.  Our school leaders should reach out to our churches and other organizations to see if they have space and hopefully broadband to help with the online parts of education.  Those leaders could ask for those interested in volunteering if they can provide supervision.  Now is the time to open our thought process to what best serves our youth.

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