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Parents, teachers split on Virginia Beach schools' reopening plan, including safety of special education students

Safely Back to School
Posted at 9:56 PM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 09:14:58-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Parents who headed into the Virginia Beach school administration building Tuesday night want their students back in school permanently.

“I am fighting for the basic right of all children to have their education be delivered to them in the proper environment, which for most children is the classroom,” said Coleen Clementson.

Right now, most students in the school district are doing virtual learning due to the spike in coronavirus cases in the region. Some speakers are asking the Virginia Beach School Board not to change their current plan.

“I ask for compassion from our leaders to keep all students virtual,” said one speaker during the public hearing.

About 1,200 special education students returned to the classroom for face-to-face instruction. These are students whose families selected the Option 1 back-to-school plan.

Clemston says it's important for her sixth grade son, who is a special education student.

“My son has a one-on-one aid as a part of his IEP.”

She says keeping her son at home was a setback.

“At one point, his case worker [said] he was failing P.E. and he was getting C-pluses.”

Stephanie Baker’s children are still home. She says virtual learning is taking away their happiness.

“It’s very hard as a parent to see that being taken away from them and to see them have to struggle day in and day out with the glitches we are supposed to just roll with,” she adds.

Her fourth grader, Rory, is tired of rolling with the punches. He has a simple message for the school board: “I’d like to go back to school ASAP.”

Teacher and President of the Virginia Beach Education Association Kelly Walker says she wants students like Rory back in class, but safety comes first.

“We are at such a surge, and the numbers are in the red. The problem we have is that if you put people back face-to-face, you are putting them at risk,” said Walker.

Walker says forcing teachers to go back to school is also a risk the school district can’t afford.

Related: Virginia Beach Education Association members share concerns during emergency meeting

“They are going to lose teachers; teachers will quit. They already are,” she adds.

One teacher who called in via Zoom says she doesn’t feel appreciated.

“I feel devalued and disposable,” said Shannon Cole.

A motion introduced Tuesday night would have scrapped in person instruction, including special education students, when in the red range. It failed 4-6.

Board members also discussed a motion to send all students back to virtual learning, with about half of the members in favor and the other half wanting the school district to "stay the course."

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