By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor
About one tenth of Harrisonburg city students started in-person classes on Monday, as a very new sort of fall semester begins. The division moved almost entirely to virtual learning for the start of the school year, while still allowing a fraction of families the option to send their children into school buildings – those with kids who would be most disadvantaged by distance learning, such as English language learners and students with special education needs.
Superintendent Michael Richards presented photos from the first day of school in the school board’s meeting on Tuesday, which showed students wearing face coverings, entering the buildings one by one and having their temperatures checked. He thanked staff who “made this day a big success. I want to thank those who are working online as well.”
“We’re pioneering a culture of health and safety,” Richards said.
School board members added their sentiments of gratitude.
“It has been a trying time for all. It’s a new thing for everyone, so I just, on behalf of the board, wanted to just thank the staff and our faculty for all that they’re doing,” said board member Obie Hill.
Keeping a low number of students in school buildings appears to be a wise decision, according to Dr. Laura Kornegay, health director of the Central Shenandoah Health District, who spoke to the board Tuesday. She said as a result, it will help protect against transmission of the virus.
“You’re at a high mitigation level already,” she said, which is especially important given the recent spike in cases among James Madison University students who have returned to Harrisonburg in the last few weeks. On Tuesday, The Breeze reported that the university had 528 cases of COVID-19 on campus, and was moving to online learning through October 5 at least.
“Our recent statistics have certainly been influenced by the repopulation of Harrisonburg by higher education,” Kornegay said, “so we’ve seen an increased burden of disease.”
“We’re where we need to be in terms of our reopening plan at this point, in terms of the local numbers,” Richards said.
Kornegay encouraged local residents to take “personal responsibility for community health” and get a flu shot early this fall, as flu symptoms can be similar to those of COVID-19, and an overlap of a bad flu year with a coronavirus spike could overwhelm local hospitals. To Harrisonburg City Public Schools, though, her message was to keep up the good work.
“It’s really heartwarming to see all those masks and those temperature stations,” Kornegay said. “You guys are doing really well.”
Also in the meeting:
- The school board voted unanimously to accept the second reading of their revised agreement with the Harrisonburg Police Department, which details the responsibilities and authority of school resource officers, or SROs. This contract expires at the end of the school year, with the intention that the school board will hold public discussions with students, parents, and community members to determine the role of SROs going forward.
- Hill commended the Massanutten Technical Center, which is open to both Harrisonburg city and Rockingham County students, on the start of their school year.
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