Local public schools struggle with space and staffing as kids return to in-person learning

Education

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Local school districts are dealing with a lot to try to get students back into classrooms.

Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) invited local school superintendents to a virtual round-table to learn about the things they are dealing with and how the federal government might help address the issues.

“Everybody wants students back in the classroom as soon as possible,” Scott said as he began the discussion on Friday morning.

Then, he asked the school leaders how they’ve used federal funds they have already received to prepare schools, and what they still need.

Dr. Elie Bracy III, superintendent of Portsmouth Public Schools said it’s been used to buy equipment.

“We’ve used the funds for the electrostatic sprayers in all our schools,” he said.

His district and others have updated HVAC systems for better air circulation.

Norfolk Public Schools bought thousands of Chromebook laptops and 10,000 hot spots for homes with no internet service.

In Suffolk Schools, Superintendent Dr. John Gordon III reported they took out all school water fountains and put in water filling stations.

Gordon said they also purchased a water bottle for every student.

“It’s just little details like that we are really having to focus on to make sure all kids are going to be safe and they are all provided the same mitigation strategies,” he said.

The challenges most districts face now are with space and staff.

“Frankly we don’t have the bus drivers to get them to school even if we expanded to have more, and of course we don’t have the space in our buildings,” said Chesapeake Superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton.

Some schools are adding lunchtimes to allow for 6 feet of distance. However, Gordon said that also means divisions need more people for more supervision.

They also need teachers for extensive summer programs needed to address learning loss.

“We’ve looked at increasing the amount of summer school pay for our teachers, increasing the amount of part-time pay to really try to get our teachers into the building for the summer,” Norfolk Public Schools Chief Information and Instructional Technology Officer Mike Cataldo said.

Bracy told Scott that school leaders would like a commitment from government leaders for funding over the next few years.

“The school systems have to show that the money made a difference — then it will be an easier sell,” Scott said.

Scott also told the school leaders that along with federal funding, President Joe Biden is looking at helping teachers by getting them into a separate line for vaccines.

That would possibly be done through a partnership with several pharmacy chains.

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