By Taylor Boyd
Some students are returning to classrooms for four days instead of two per week, following a vote by the Patrick County School Board Thursday.
Schools Superintendent Dean Gilbert said the division doubled in-class instruction time for some English Language Learners (ELL) and Special Education students – a transition that is provided for in phases outlined in Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening plan.
“We are trying to serve all students as well as possible. Based on current attendance and floor capacity, we can do this and still adhere to the social distance guidelines in schools and on the buses,” Gilbert said.
Parents/guardians made the decision, he said.
“We contacted some of the parents and they seemed really interested in the idea. Not everyone wanted to come four days a week,” Gilbert said, adding those affected began the transition this week.
While he did not know the total number of affected students in the division, Gilbert said “we had more than 40 just at the high school” to make the transition.
The board also approved a student survey for students in grades 6 to 12. Designed to gather data on race relations, the survey includes 10 questions with four answer choices: ‘Always,’ ‘Sometimes,’ ‘Never,’ and ‘I don’t know.’
Gilbert said that after the board approves any survey, it must be posted on the Patrick County Public School’s website a month before being administered to students. That time gives parents the opportunity to view the survey as well as opt their children out of completing it.
The survey will be administered in schools to ensure students are answering in “a non-biased environment,” he added.
The board’s decisions mirror the recommendations of the Patrick County Diversity and Equity Committee, which was created over the summer to discuss issues facing the school system.
Tony Mosley, a sports coach at the Patrick County High School and a member of the committee, asked board members to consider four recommendations from the committee.
First was the recommendation to allow Special Education and ELL students to attend school four days a week “to ensure they are receiving the necessary accommodations and closing the achievement gap between them and other students.”
Mosley said the student survey is needed “to obtain information about diversity, perception of treatment of ethnic groups and minorities, and the perception of confederate apparel.”
The committee recommended prohibiting confederate apparel, and the board should add it to the dress code in the school handbook, he said.
Additionally, Mosley said the name and/or depiction of the Hardin Reynolds Memorial School Rebels mascot should be changed. It currently portrays a Confederate soldier.
In his 11 years of teaching in Patrick County, Mosley said there was only one experience that made him feel unwelcome.
“One of our students was killed in a logging accident, and to show support his friends wore rebel shirts and put Confederate flags on their vehicles. When I came to work there were 30-40 confederate flags in the parking lot. I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut,” he said.
“Many people say they see heritage when they see those flags. For me, I see hatred. Hatred for me and people that look like me,” Mosley added.
He added he was distracted that day and couldn’t focus on his job.
“I could imagine how a 13 or 14-year-old kid would feel if he had to endure that. Every student that comes through those doors should feel accepted, respected, and valued. If we don’t do that, we will fail them,” Mosley said.
Raina Brim, a representative of Patrick County Friends of Equity and Justice, also discussed changes that should be made to ensure equity and inclusion for students.
For instance, she said the group wants the board to establish an anti-racism policy for students and employees that includes the banning of the Confederate flag apparel and paraphernalia in all school buildings and on school grounds, and racist language.
She said the board also should address microaggressions and racially insensitive comments or actions. “Micro-aggressions are subtle, often unintentional, forms of prejudice that often take the shape of offhand comments, pointed insults, or inadvertently painful jokes,” Brim said, adding that the policies should have straightforward consequences for violations, such as diversity awareness training or workshop.
Brim said the board should create a separate anti-racism policy in the handbook to address the issues, and not include them in bullying, dress code, or vulgar language policies.
In other matters, the board:
*Voted to adopt October as Bullying Prevention Month, following a recommendation by the Virginia School Board Association.
* Approved changes to the current academic calendar due to the hybrid schedule. Now, Oct. 21 will be a regular virtual Wednesday and conference day, with parent/teacher conferences to be held virtually and/or in person by appointment. The following day, Thursday, Oct. 22, will be a regular school day on the current hybrid plan.
Walter Scott of the Smith River District and Amy Walker of the Mayo River District was not present for the meeting.