Prince William School Board scolded over online learning: ‘You should be ashamed’

The Prince William County School Board.

This is Carter Lyra’s senior year at Woodbridge Senior High School.

So far, the 17-year-old, who lives in Lake Ridge, has spent it sitting at home, behind a laptop, attending virtual classes. He says his teachers are “struggling to make a connection” with students. The virtual classes educate him “no better than that what Google can provide me,” he said.

Kindergarten and first-grade students have returned to in-person learning at Prince William schools at a 50% capacity as of December 2. Half of the students sit with a teacher inside a classroom, and the other half use a laptop to attend class from home.

Second and third-grade students aren’t due back to an in-person classroom until January 12, 2021. Middle and high school students won’t be able to walk through the door of a school building until February 2.

Keeping students from in-person learning has put a damper on Lyra’s adolescence. He’s isolated from his friends and finding it nearly impossible to meet new ones. He’s also unable to get a date, which is clearly at the forefront of the young man’s mind.

He believes the School Board’s decision to keep students out of the classroom has become less about protecting students from a deadly virus and is now more politically motivated. “COVID-19 is out of your hands, but you have created this situation,” said Lyra as he scolded the Prince William County School Board at its meeting on Wednesday, December 3. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

At-large School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef, Jennifer Wall, and Justin Wilk, who represent the Gainesville and Potomac magisterial districts, respectively, have been vocal about their desire to see children return to in-person learning.

A vocal minority of School Board members, to include Lorree Williams, Lillie Jessie, and  Daine Raulston, of the Woodbridge, Occoquan, and Neabsco magisterial districts — all of whom have been endorsed by the county’s Democratic Party — do not.

In neighboring Fairfax County, the largest school district in the state, reports that online learning has been such a disaster that theres an 83% failure rate in the student population.

Return to in-person learning will continue

While Lyra may have to wait another 60 days to see most of his friends again, School Superintendent Dr. Steven L. Walts says he’ll move ahead with his plan to return students to the classroom in a 50% capacity model. While all students will continue to learn from home on Mondays, students will alternate during the remainder of the week, with half of the students coming to school while the other half learn from home.

“At this time, I am not recommending any changes to our operations, which is due in large part to the limited numbers of students we have in the building currently coupled with our extensive mitigation efforts. This includes winter sports at the high school level, which will continue as planned with additional mitigation requirements,” Walts said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Newly installed plexiglass now separates children from others as they sit at their classroom desks. They, like their teachers, are forced to wear facemasks. And, like pencils and paper, hand sanitizer is now atop the list of must-have school supplies.

All of this is happening when the number of coronavirus cases reported within the school division is on the rise.

“Since the last School Board meeting, we have had 69 cases of COVID-19 of either students or staff virtual or in-person, reported to [Prince William County Public Schools] for November 15 — November 21, and 39 cases reported November 22-29. This brings the total for November to 177 cases as of Monday, November 30, compared to 84 in October, and 50 in September,” Walts penned in his remarks to the School Board.

However, very few people in Prince William County — 0.7% out of every 100,000 — have been hospitalized with the disease over the past seven days. Statewide, there have been no reported coronavirus-related deaths of small children since the pandemic began in March and only one death of a person between the ages of 10 and 19.

But, as the number of coronavirus cases rises, so does the anxiety of some parents. “In March, we were pulling children out of a house fire [when schools were ordered to close], and we’re sending them back when the fire is raging,” said one parent, who phoned into the School Board meeting.

Instructors are scared, too. “Teachers can’t get what they need [personal protective equipment], and when students test positive coronavirus, their teachers aren’t told about it. Many hear about it from other students,” one teacher told the school board over the phone.

But others, like Ashland Elementary School School Principal Dr. Andy Jacks, negated her claim and assured elected leaders that teachers were, in fact, receiving protective gear. “Feeling safe is important, and if anyone feels like they need more [personal protective gear], all they have to do is ask for it,” said Jacks.

Superintendent Walts, who also continues to phone into School Board meetings since online classes resumed in August, suggested that individual School Board members who have concerns about teacher safety bring them to his subordinates to have them addressed, occurring out of public view.

Elected official singles out reporter over facemask

When it comes to wearing personal protective gear at the county school headquarters, it appears the School Board is selectively enforcing who has to wear a facemask and who doesn’t.

During Wednesday’s meeting, this reporter was one of 11 people sitting in the large meeting room, in one of 22 chairs, all of which had been set six feet apart.

Admittedly, I was one of two people in the room who didn’t have their faces completely covered by a mask. My mask was resting on my chin while a man two rows in front of me, sitting closer to the School Board members, was not wearing a mask.

About an hour into the meeting, Vice-Chairwoman Lorree Williams, who was presiding over the meeting and represents the Woodbridge Magisterial District, stormed off the dais and approached a man who later identified himself as the director of security at the school division, and whispered into his ear.

Shortly thereafter, the security guard approached me and demanded that this reporter pull up his facemask while saying nothing to the man in front of me. When I refused and pointed out the hypocrisy of the order, the security director summoned a police officer who asked me to step out of the meeting.

Now in the lobby with the officer and the security guard, fully masked due to us standing less than six-feet apart, the security guard demanded I use the mask to cover my entire face due to an executive order put in place by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam that requires reaffirms facemasks to be worn indoors, and now requires children five years or older to shield their faces from public view.

He declined to allow me to sit in the back of the large meeting room, well away from the meeting attendees, at more than a six-foot distance, to observe the meeting.

Pivoting, he then offered me the option of sitting in the lobby, without a facemask, and viewing the meeting on a TV screen. In the end, and despite a clear effort by an elected official to single out a member of the press, this reporter complied with the police officer who asked that I wear the mask for the remainder of the meeting.

This incident marks the first time in this reporter’s 20-year career a that politician has used force during a public meeting to intimidate the press.

No law in Virginia grants School Boards the authority to require meeting attendees to wear masks. When challenged, similar executive orders issued during the coronavirus pandemic by governors in New York and Michigan have been found to have violated citizens’ First Amendment Rights and are now deemed unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, the Campbell County, Virginia Board of Supervisors declared that county a First Amendment Sanctuary, vowing not to enforce any new coronavirus restrictions by Governor Northam.

19 thoughts on “Prince William School Board scolded over online learning: ‘You should be ashamed’

  1. Wow – democrats talk about “following the science” but they routinely ignore the science. Kids should be in school, School Board members shouldn’t harass anyone (particularly reporters), and police should refuse to get engaged in such nonsense.

    1. The level of willful ignorance in both this article and your comment is amazing and sets a horrible precedent. CV19 doesn’t care if you’re a democrat or a republican and while you might be ok with your child coming home with an illness that spreads through your family and friends, I’m certainly not.

      1. Read a high school biology book and you will see were you are wrong with your statement. Fauci just said children are NOT the carriers. Science is routinely not followed. Common sense is out the window. There is a 99.97% of survival. Dysentery cause more deaths than covid. It is not even being accurately reported!!

  2. So you were admittingly violating the Governor’s orders, but you’re trying to claim you’re being silenced? Stop being a baby and wear the mask, like you’re suppose to.

    Also, there has been a COVID related death of a child in VA. Also, more children are becoming sick with the virus. People don’t die immediately from the virus. And even those who survive suffer long term effects that are very serious. You’re a horrible journalist who obviously doesn’t care about the lives that are impacted by this.

    The Grinch has nothing on you.

    1. Read a high school biology book and you will see were you are wrong with your statement. Fauci just said children are NOT the carriers. Science is routinely not followed. Common sense is out the window. There is a 99.97% of survival. Dysentery cause more deaths than covid. It is not even being accurately reported!!

    2. Good article! The person who called you a grinch is ignorant and refuses to look at facts. People forget that sickness happens. Longterm affects are common with any virus. This is nothing new. There is an increase in bacterial infections from mask wearing. There is no asymptomatic spread. I learned that in medical school. Presymptomatic can spread. So much fear mongering is causing havoc. It is myopic to think we are sparing ourselves from covid while the other viruses and infections do nothing. We are creating super sensitivities. That is what I see as a doctor.

  3. I want to thank the reporter for this story. It is obvious that PWC has some very bad eggs on the school board and the county board. As for 17 year-old Carter, he shouldn’t be too concerned about dating right now. Time is on his side.

  4. For the record, I asked for both individuals to wear their masks as it is a health and safety issue while sitting next to others in the meeting. A mask is not a political issue, period. I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

    Loree Y. Williams

  5. Please correct your link: 83% of Fairfax County students are not failing. There has been an increase of failure rates by 83%, which is to say there are almost twice as many failing students this school year, when compared to in-person learning from previous years.

    No one argues that virtual classrooms are every bit as good for every situation; they’re not. But please let’s not allow hyperbole to infect our communication–this has always been a temporary, stopgap solution to an uncertain set of circumstances.

  6. You call yourself a reporter?

    “…at its meeting on Wednesday, December 6.” Today is December 3rd.

    “… that 83% of the student population is failing.” That’s absolutely not what the article says. It says that the number of F’s has increased by 83%, not that 83% is failing. Learn some basic math, or at least read the article before you mischaracterize it.

    “…this reporter was…” so you refer to yourself in the third person? That’s laughable.

    “… that requires reaffirms facemasks…” You went to college right? You own a computer don’t you? I mean you are supposed to be a person who knows how to write, correct? There are things called grammar checkers for people like you who can’t build a cohesive sentence and know how to use prepositions and articles when necessary.

    How can anyone take you seriously?

  7. Wow, so many issues with this…

    First, frankly, Lyra needs to grow up. Complaining about not being able to socialize or get a date when our society is trying to slow the spread of a deadly virus is, to put it mildly, incredibly immature. Students and families are now being faced with the decision to either try to make the best of an incredibly difficult situation, or to sit back and complain about it while making it worse. Unfortunately, many (including Lyra and probably his parents) are choosing the latter because they’d rather make the pandemic a political issue.

    As for this article and the reporter… Wow… You are not a victim. You were ignoring the directives and instead of just fixing it, you started an argument, and then wondered why you got kicked out. And your “legal” argument is flat out wrong. There doesn’t need to be a law that specifically “allows” a public entity to require masks at its meetings – that is a safety precaution, and has been mandated by the governor, which has not been struck down in Virginia. FOIA law mandates that the public is permitted access to the meetings (which you were), but does not prohibit the public body from taking safety precautions. The state supreme court opinions you then link don’t have anything to do with public body meetings and mask requirements. New York’s refers to religious gatherings, and Michigan’s order was struck down because it was made under an old law that was no longer valid – the order was then re-issued citing current legislation.

  8. You should have worn your mask properly at all times respecting others health and safety. Full stop. Making any part of this important topic about you is self serving, political and embarrassingly shows your bias. Follow the rules, get the story and report it – without bias. Editorial pages serve a purpose. Use it. You’ve misused and abused your platform.

  9. Did you purposely not wear (or partially wear) the mask so you have an interesting article to write? Seems like it.

    You went from a relevant article to an article about you being a victim. Bored!

  10. This is a terribly written article with a weird personal tantrum about how you were made to comply with state law — you do know these mask orders are to help others around you yes? You literally start that section admonishing the school board for being lax about protocol at the meeting, but then YOU were the one not wearing a mask… I mean, you hear yourself right? This is not journalism, and you were not singled out or forcibly silenced as “press”—you were just simply asked to follow rules for being in that building. By your own admission they let you watch from another room so how is this blocking out press? Also, describing the mask requirement as teachers and students being “forced” to wear masks… people like you are the reasons the virus is so bad to cause these remote learning situations in the first place.

  11. Whomever allowed this article to run should be reprimanded for not doing their job. Half way through it started to fall apart only to crash and burn at the end.
    To the reporter, wear your damn mask.

  12. Thank you! As a teacher in VA I didn’t even believe this. How is it we have more parental comments with their own kids at home than when we needed it with their kids at school. Its amazing to some of us educators. We hear from parents. Like what am I to do with my own kids? My response: You had them didn’t you? Learning and supports begin at home. I’ve seen entire family’s become Covid + because of the child attending school. Older relatives died. What about the school staff? We are concerned too. Others extremely fearful with underlying health issues.

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