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Virginia Beach City Public Schools pushes back in-person classes; board approves equity policy

The return to schools was delayed by two weeks. The policy includes training covering items such as cultural awareness, spotting bias, and inequitable practices.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — An in-person return for public school students in Virginia Beach will have to wait at least two more weeks. 

On Wednesday, Virginia Beach City Public Schools leaders told the school board that they need more time before students come back.

Two weeks ago, Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence told us the division hoped to start getting students back inside the classroom by September 22. That goal was pushed back to October 6.

The division presented final updates for the reopening of schools to the board.

Chief schools officer Dr. Donald Robertson said his staff is working to fill teacher vacancies and make student schedule modifications for when in-person instruction begins. Robertson said doing that all by September 22 would be tough.

As of Wednesday, he said there were about 26 teacher vacancies. He said another two weeks gives his team a more realistic time frame to hire and train staff.

“Provide Dr. Spence with my team's best thinking on what can be done, and in what time frame,” Robertson said. “As a division leader, I join you in accepting responsibility to do what is in the best interest of 5,000 staff and over 66,000 students.”

The school board also set out to vote on implementing the division’s first educational equity policy.

More than 50 passionate parents and community members signed up to speak on the proposed policy. The board deliberated for a few hours before voting to pass the policy.

“I have two daughters that go to the Virginia Beach school system, so that is why this is important to me,” said parent Joel Jones.

The policy is something parents like Jones said they can get behind... if it’s done the right way.

“Just don’t want to see it being just a paragraph posted on a wall and there is no action taken to it,” Jones said.

A six-page draft of the policy includes training for staff and the school board on things like cultural awareness, spotting bias, and inequitable practices. It also looks at a culturally responsive curriculum.

Kempsville High School Junior Carrington Smith feels the policy would help her get to know her peers.

“We are all learning about the same thing,” Smith said. “But we are not learning about each other’s background. For me specifically, I’m Caribbean, I don’t learn about where I am from in schools.”

Some community members don’t think the policy is necessary.

“They do teach Black history in the schools,” said Jarome Bell. “But if you really want to learn your history and your background, the parents are supposed to do that, not in the school system. Because that brings division into the school system.”

Others said it needed more thought. But Jones thought it was the right step forward.

“I look at these teachers and say, 'Hey, are you giving these children all of the tools that they need in this educational environment?'” Jones said. “Are you removing all of the barriers? Are you comfortable with your bias, not knowing the backgrounds of your students?”

Board Members Carolyn Weems, Vicki Manning, and Laura Hughes abstained when it came time to vote. All three said they needed more information in order to vote. The board passed the policy with a vote of 8.