Rockingham schools to stick to neutral turf for future meetings to avoid mask issues

The at the Aug. 9 Rockingham County School Board meeting at Spotswood High School is largely divided between people with opposing views on issues, such as wearing masks in schools. (File photo)

By Logan Roddy, senior contributor

Speaking to an audience of about 30 in the Rockingham County Administrative Offices on Monday, the county’s schools’ superintendent said future school board meetings would meet in similar non-school venues to help diffuse tension about masks. 

Oskar Scheikl, the Rockingham County school superintendent, said by not holding the meetings in school buildings, where masks are required, the board can continue to conduct business in public and all those interested can attend. While several people made public comments and asked questions about issues that have stirred controversy in the past, the tenor of Monday’s meeting was much calmer than last month, when hundreds of people packed Spotswood High School’s auditorium and got a bit raucous. Masks were one of the issues fueling the fiery meeting. 

“It’s become a very political issue and we just want to avoid that conflict,” Scheikl told The Citizen in an interview after the meeting. “Say you have a kid in the front row who’s won an award, you know, it’s just easier to continue to do our business in a way where everyone can attend.”

During Monday’s public comment period, three community members challenged the board’s recent adoption of the Virginia School Boards Association’s nondiscrimination model policy in relation to the treatment of transgender students, calling it “inappropriate,” “unsafe,” and with one asking the board to give a detailed description of what the policy means “in our classrooms, in the bathrooms of the school, in the locker rooms and in the showers.” No members of the board addressed concerns regarding the nondiscrimination policy. 

But Scheikl did respond to a concern one parent brought up regarding the possibility of a Covid vaccine requirement for students, saying that “it’s highly unlikely that any vaccine under emergency use authorization would be mandated for students.”

“There are some vaccines that are currently mandatory, there are exceptions to that, but those are done by the health board,” Scheikl said. “We’re as much of a passenger on that one as anybody.”

He said exceptions also exist for other mandated vaccines required for school enrollment.

“I don’t anticipate that we would simply go out and say, ‘Hey, it’s now mandatory for a student in Rockingham.’ That’s a legislative process,” Scheikl said.

He also said that the covid-19 vaccine is still under emergency use authorization for anyone 12-16. A vaccine hasn’t yet been approved for children younger than 12. 

“Learning 2025 Initiative”

Scheikl also announced that Rockingham was one of 60 school districts the School Superintendents Association selected to participate in its Learning 2025 Initiative. The division will be part of AASA’s Learning 2025 Network of Demonstration Systems, and participating means working with an education consultant that can help the district create an action plan tailored to the needs of Rockingham, receiving senior consulting services, engagement and strategic planning support, and moving forward with research-based recommendations “to provide all learners with a bright future,” according to the association’s press release. 

The association’s statement also said the AASA identified a “collection of forward-leaning urban, suburban and rural districts” to serve as national models as part of the demonstration project. 

“This initiative will ensure that educators are empowered and equipped to meet whole learners’ needs by personalizing and customizing instruction involving students in designing their own learning and coordinating resources to support ALL children’s overall growth and well-being,” Daniel A. Domenech, the association’s executive director, said in a press release. 

Rockingham’s education consultant will be Ray McNulty, president of the National Best Practice Center and the National Dropout Prevention Center, “because of the things in our application that he saw, particularly in the area of mental behavioral health, where we just shine,” Scheikl said.

Need an old desk or bus? 

Steven Reid, the county school division’s director of maintenance, said surplus supplies will be sold via online auctions, with the first going Thursday through Sunday. Along with furniture and various classroom supplies that are no longer needed, the district will auction off more than 20 vehicles, including 14 school buses.

“And if you need a school bus or an overhead projector or some old outdated maps, this is a great place to get them,” board member Renee Reed said. “It’s a lot of fun, actually, and it does support the schools.”

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