What should the return to school look like in Metro Richmond? It’s been a hot-button topic for weeks now, following a spring semester cut short statewide by COVID-19.
With Virginia now in Phase 3 of its reopening, Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Education have left back-to-school decisions up to individual localities – at least for now. A spike in cases regionally or statewide could force Virginia back into Phase 2, and render the plans of localities meaningless if Northam determines that all schools should again close for a period of time.
But for now, Richmond-area localities are making decisions about what school will look like this fall.
In Richmond, the School Board voted this week to conduct the entire first semester virtually. Hanover County will offer students a choice between full-time, in-person classes or full-time virtual learning. Henrico and Chesterfield counties are set to make their announcements this week.
We wanted to know what Richmond Power Poll members thought about the back-to-school topic, so we made it the focus of this week’s poll.
What did we learn?
Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they believed local school divisions should return to partial or full in-person learning, with only 14 percent indicating that virtual learning should be the path forward until a vaccine for the virus is found.
Half of all respondents favored a hybrid learning plan, with students attending several days a week in person and working virtually the rest of the time. About 12 percent favored another plan.
Asked to explain what the most significant benefit will be when students are able to return to school in person full time, about 68 percent of respondents cited students’ ability to resume learning and developing academically. Another 23 percent said they would benefit most from much-needed interaction with peers and others, and about 9 percent said that such a return would allow parents to return to normal work scheduled and be less stressed.
That stress level is a real factor, according to a majority of respondents. Asked to best describe their own personal situation and/or those of friends, coworkers or employees with children during the past four month, more than three-quarters said that their work production during the pandemic – or that of friends, coworkers or employees with children – has been somewhat or drastically affected by school closures, as parents attempted to balance work and homeschooling responsibilities. (Of those, 44 percent said work production had been “somewhat” affected, while about 32 percent said “drastically” affected.)
About 24 percent said their work production or that of others they know with children had been unaffected since the pandemic began.
Nearly 62 percent of respondents said that they or their friends, coworkers or employees with children continue to keep their children at home with them full time. About six percent of respondents said they or the parents they know had sent their children back to day care centers, while about a third said they are relying upon other child-care options.
Richmond Power Poll is not a scientific poll. Its 250 members (a number that is growing) include regional leaders from the government, nonprofit, business, education and other communities. This week’s poll had a response rate of about 16 percent.