BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) After closing their doors for months, school systems across the region are turning to the community to help develop plans for reopening this fall.
Many districts are asking for input from parents, teachers and students through a survey.
Pheben Kassahun spoke with Bristol VA Public Schools officials and parents on what will happen next.
School officials are working closely with the Virginia Department of Health, local health departments and the Virginia Department of Education.
However, the school system also wants to hear from parents and students about what needs to be done so they feel safe at school.
“Our board has been very clear at our last school board meeting. They want to do everything they can to open as normally as possible and if we’re able to do that, and able to do it in a healthy and safe way, we will certainly try to make that happen,” Bristol, Virginia Public Schools superintendent, Dr. Keith Perrigan said.
School officials are working with guidance from the local health department and taking in account what the local health metrics are at the local at the time school opens.
Dr. Perrigan said, “Hopefully, the number of active cases in Bristol and surrounding areas will remain relatively low, as we move into August. If that’s the case, I see no obstacles for us to be enabled to open school full time.”
They are also asking for input from those they serve. So far, more than 500 responses from parents and more than 200 responses from staff have been submitted.
“I think the school board can make everyone happy and it would also reduce class sizes if they told people, ‘You have every right to stay home and we will even help you with distance learning,” Bristol, Virginia Public Schools parent, Angie Thompson said.
Both of Angie Thompson’s children attend Bristol Public Schools. She hopes the system plans for students to return to school because her kids have been struggling learning remotely.
“My son, he needs speech therapy and he also needs reading. He goes to those special classes two to three times a week,” Thompson said. “Certain letters, he really couldn’t say and he was doing so well with the speech therapy and then now he’s saying everything wrong again.”
Thompson, who works in the medical field told Kassahun that she and her husband have struggled to find childcare for their kids as they both work full-time jobs.
“Because of the schools being closed, the Boys and Girls Clubs were closed, the after schools programs of course were closed,” she said.
Thompson believes having students continue to learn from home is doing a disservice to them.
“I believe in schools. There are teachers for a reason,” Thompson said. “The people that are afraid to send their children, that are able to homes school them or are talking about homeschooling them, they should have the option to do that but maybe the county or the school can also assist in some kind of distant learning for those who are not comfortable to send them back.”
Dr. Perrigan said they will take into account every parent’s concern.
“If we do have students or students with family members who have health issues that could cause issues, as a result of the COVID virus being in our community, we would approve request from those individuals to attend remotely if we are offering instruction in person,” Dr. Perrigan said.
The survey for Bristol, Virginia Public Schools will end at 11:59 p.m., Wednesday night.
Before an official plan is released, the school board must create one with the responses and submit it for approval to the Virginia Department of Education.