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Survey says: Pittsylvania County Schools employees have mixed feelings on reopening plan

Survey says: Pittsylvania County Schools employees have mixed feelings on reopening plan

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The types of concerns and comments provided in an open-ended survey that brought in feedback from more than 300 of Pittsylvania County Schools’ about 1,500 employees are wide-ranging. Some staff members are focused on the safety of the students and their family, others the quality of instruction, and others the equity of resources and internet access.

Many of the respondents wrote the school division does not have any good or easy answers in front of it. Employees showed they themselves are conflicted about how to balance two priorities: the need to educate and the need to keep students and staff safe.

“I don’t want to cheat my children out of the proper education, but I don’t want to feel like I’m throwing them to the wolves,” one employee of Kentuck Elementary School wrote.

Added a teacher from Stony Mill Elementary: “I know that the situation that the school systems have been placed in is unprecedented. I also know that there is no good option to please everyone, and that we need to do what is best for the students.”

The responses from that open-ended survey show mixed feelings and some uneasiness about the division’s hybrid return plan. The plan involves students K-3, as well as English learners and special education students, attending in-person classes four days a week, while everyone else has in-person classes just two days per week. Students would be responsible for remote learning on the days they don’t attend.

There are 378 submitted responses — the Danville Register & Bee obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request, though all the names were redacted. Of the responses, 82, or just over 21%, indicated they did not support the current reopening plan while 87, or 23%, said or implied they did. The remaining 207, or nearly 56% didn’t necessarily say whether or not they supported the plan, but did provide some feedback or concerns, a Register & Bee analysis of the responses found.

At least one-third of the responses revolved around the safety of students, staff and/or family members as one of the primary concerns.

“I do not feel comfortable going back,” a teacher from Tunstall High School wrote. “I have medical issues and I live with people with medical issues, I also have a special needs child who I will not allow to go back. You all have come up with some great plans on paper, but in reality, they are hard to implement.”

Staff members expressed fears and conflicts about returning to work with hundreds of students when everyone, including family members, are at-risk for the virus. Teachers shared their concerns about equity of instruction with remote learning options when many students don’t have reliable internet access at home. Other employees simply listed off questions about policies, their workload and various other elements of Pittsylvania County School’s reopening plan.

The survey was put out on the morning of July 10, the day after the plan was originally presented to the Pittsylvania County School Board during a work session. Feedback was allowed for four days, until July 14, the day the school board voted to set the plan in motion.

“If this is all the room you give us to respond, you really don’t care what we think,” one employee at Mt. Airy Elementary School wrote.

Of those who said they did not support the plan, most expressed a desire to move forward with exclusively remote learning, but some did indicate the opposite — that they would want to resume with even more in-person instruction.

There were no prompts or specific questions given in the survey. The only sections employees filled out were for their name, the location where they work, and a blank space for comments. At least 54 of the respondents did not make any comments, instead posing questions, which ranged in subject from access to personal protection equipment to instruction to polices.

The comments varied in depth and length, the concerns expressed, and the schools from which the employees came.

Some staffers filled the comment section with brief answers, such as “teacher,” “virus,” “n/a,” and “2 kids.”

One respondent simply wrote “no.”

About 31% of respondents made suggestions regarding scheduling, either regarding the day-to-day scheduling of when and where students and staff are required to return to work or when classes actually begin. At the time the survey was put out, the proposed plan was to have students on an rotating schedule, where a group of students would attend school Mondays and Wednesdays and another group would attend Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Superintendent Mark Jones said feedback from the surveys led the division to make one primary change to the original reopening plan: Wednesday would be for deep cleaning and teacher check-ins instead of Friday.

Another change in the plan that at least partially stemmed from staff feedback was pushing the start date of school back to Aug. 20 instead of Aug. 10. Many requested a start date after Labor Day, but division leadership said that was not feasible.

A veteran school teacher at Southside Elementary wrote of contracting COVID-19 earlier this year, recovering at home without many issues, while her husband, who she said was in good health, spent 31 days in the hospital and 12 on a ventilator. Even after being brought back from the hospital, he was on oxygen and using a walker, and doctors are unsure of what the long-term effects will be, the teacher wrote.

“I am almost terrified that I will get this virus again at work [where I am to teach, clean, serve food, take temperatures, act as a nurse for minor issues] and bring it home to my husband. We were so lucky that he survived and returned home, but what if he gets it again?” she wrote, imploring school division leaders to consider an all-virtual start to the school year.

More than 50 responses concerned the quality of instruction and the ability of teachers to effectively instruct students through several simultaneous methods and handle the extra workload that would come with that.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

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