Chesapeake parent pushing for live, virtual ways to address school board


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A parent in Chesapeake is pushing for access to live, virtual ways to address the school board amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Samantha Lester helps run “Chesapeake Advocates for Responsible Return to School.” It’s a group of parents who want to make sure the school division being transparent while making decisions regarding the pandemic.

“The general purpose for this advocacy group is to encourage Chesapeake Public Schools to make consistent, transparent, and safe decisions when it comes to schooling during a pandemic,” said Lester.

Lester has three children, two of them are school-aged. They are learning virtually while she is fighting for more transparency from the school board.

“I can’t look back on this moment and not do everything that I could’ve to make people do the right things,” said Lester.

Lester started speaking at school board meetings in July, when speaking in-person was the only option. In December, the board added “VideoAsk,” where people can record their comments for the board to review prior to the meeting. However, those are not live comments.

“We are told that the school board members will review the video prior to the meeting,” said Lester. “There’s no guarantee that that will actually happen, nor is that allowing those speakers to be able to address their public officials publicly.”

With cases still high, she wants to see more options to address the school board safely. That includes a live, virtual option. At the very least, she wants the school board to play the recorded videos.

“Play those videos during the live school board meeting,” Lester said. “That is the only way to be equitable and fair and encourage safe habits in the public.”

Lester says she plans to speak live and in-person at Monday night’s school board meeting, even though she has an autoimmune disease and doesn’t feel comfortable.

A school spokesperson says the videos are provided to the board prior to their meeting for review. He shared this information with 10 On Your Side:

Citizens are welcome to attend meetings and can address the School Board during the Hearing of Citizens portion of the agenda.  If citizens are not comfortable speaking in person at the meeting, they may contact the board members directly (Contact information is located on our website here) or they can submit a video message the Friday before the meeting for the Board to review.  Video messages are provided to Board members prior to the meeting for their review and the names of citizens submitting comments will be read into the record by the Clerk.  

We take the health and safety of our employees and community members very seriously and take every possible precaution to keep meeting attendants safe.  Citizens requesting time to speak are physically distanced, screened upon entry, and required to wear face coverings.  In addition, all surfaces are cleaned after each use.  Speakers may wait in their cars before being called to the podium and are permitted to leave the meeting as soon as they speak, if they wish.

According to the Chesapeake School Division’s COVID-19 Dashboard, there have been six COVID-19 cases in the School Administration Building in the last 14 days.

This is what a school spokesman said in regard to cases at that building:

There has been no change to the operational status of the School Administration Building following the recent investigation revealing a possible connection between COVID-19 cases among staff.  All individuals associated with the outbreak were contacted directly and are following the guidance provided by the health department.  We work closely with the Chesapeake Health Department on all investigations and feel confident that tonight’s meeting can continue. 

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