Prince William County special education teachers will soon return to the classroom and work with some of the Virginia public school district’s most vulnerable students — but it’s a decision that’s not sitting well with everyone.
Patriot High School special ed teacher Ronald Blair Jr. pivoted to virtual learning earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic drove the D.C. region’s school districts to go remote. But with the virus still spreading, Blair fears for the safety of his 10-year-old son as the school district eventually seeks to resume in-person learning.
“Thinking as a dad, it scares me really, it’s not something that I can control,” Blair said of the pandemic, citing three prior cases within his family. “I’m supposed to protect him and teach him and all these things. But in this situation, I can’t protect him from this.”
As a teacher working with higher-functioning students, Blair said he currently has the option to teach remotely through Zoom meetings instead of commuting to a school building. His present understanding from emails and practice schedules is that the school is eyeing late November or early December for at least a partial return to in-person instruction.
He expressed concern that the school isn’t taking into account the possibility of students unknowingly communicating the virus, or failing to report their symptoms.
“I just don’t think that teachers are being considered as really human beings — like we’re expendable to the fact that we can’t get sick,” Blair said.
“Teachers are caring people by nature, I would like to think they’ll come up together and give you a card or something. But that card doesn’t substitute for the fact that you’re in a situation you didn’t have to be in, if those in leadership roles considered all aspects of what’s going on.”
Responding to Blair, Prince William County Public Schools said education officials have been working closely with health experts to safely bring back students and staff.
“For the first quarter, we anticipate less than 2,000 of our 91,000 students to return in person, and that is based on agreement within the IEP team, which includes the parent,” PWCS spokeswoman Diana Gulotta said. “This is not an ideal situation for anyone, but we are trying very hard to meet the requirements of the law and the unique needs of our students.”
In July, Prince William County opted against a return to the classroom when the new academic year begins on Sept. 8, lacking sufficient support for a “hybrid” model that would have allowed students to attend school twice per week.
Instead, board chair Babur Lateef settled on a compromise that would see students learn remotely for the first quarter of the school year with the hybrid model kicking in late fall to early winter.
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