At its October 11 meeting the Campbell County School Board addressed a number of persistent concerns voiced by county residents at recent meetings.
Robert Johnson, superintendent of schools, opened the meeting this week. He said the school board’s agenda was posted online on October 1, two Fridays prior to this week’s meeting, rather than the Friday just three days before, which had been the norm before.
“We’ll continue doing that moving forward,” Johnson said.
Johnson said all school board members’ email addresses were removed from the school board’s website roughly one year ago for security reasons. A button has since been added to the website to allow board members to be contacted via email. Additionally, he said the school board has explored suggestions to offer liability waivers or “hold harmless” agreements to allow some a way around wearing a mask in school. But, Johnson explained, Virginia is one of three states that does not enforce pre-injury liability waivers.
“Thus, even if an injured party previously had agreed to release a business, meaning the school board, from any and all of the claims based on any negligence, the business can still be held liable for negligence,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he sent a letter to State Senator Steve Newman requesting legislation to grant school divisions immunity such instances, but no such legislation has been passed.
Johnson also addressed concerns surrounding critical race theory, stating that it is not being taught in any Campbell County Public Schools classrooms. He said only minor technical changes were made to history and social sciences curricula before the current school year, which were unrelated to critical race theory.
He said the Department of Education will be preparing revised standards for Virginia’s history and social sciences curricula during this year. Johnson said all changes to curricula will then be presented to the State Board of Education next summer, after which the board of education will conduct regional meetings for in-person and remote (electronic) public comment.
“If you’re interested in making comment regarding any revisions to those standards, that’s when you need to do that, before the Department of Education gets those and adopts them,” Johnson said.
Also at the meeting hard copies of a letter from the school board’s attorney, A. David Hawkins, written in regards to mask mandates in schools, were provided for attendees.
The letter explained that Senate Bill 1303, which was passed by the Virginia General Assembly this year, binds schools to COVID-19 mitigation strategies provided by the CDC “to the maximum extent practicable.”
Because the CDC currently recommends universal indoor masking for students, staff and visitors in K-12 schools, Hawkins’ letter explains, Virginia’s schools are bound to require masks.
“We cannot say masks are not ‘practicable’ because we did it all last year without major incident,” Hawkins wrote. “I am not sure the General Assembly completely appreciated what might be the future effect of that law when they passed it, but it does clearly bind the schools to the CDC guidelines.”
Hawkins went on to explain that members of the school board could be held criminally liable if they did not follow the law, including Senate Bill 1303.
“Those who want this changed need to go to Richmond and protest to the General Assembly where the law was passed that says local schools must follow the CDC guidelines,” Hawkins wrote.
Numerous county individuals came to speak at the meeting, including several high school students, who voiced concerns about teacher exhaustion this school year, a lack of available substitute teachers and safety in the event of a school shooting.
Other speakers also recommended additional teacher workdays, and others voiced familiar complaints about critical race theory and mask requirements in schools. Several also felt school board members had not adequately responded to their concerns after previous meetings.
Vice chairman David Phillips addressed most of these concerns, also pointing out that it takes time for school board members to respond to in-depth questions that will likely require research.
“There was some discussion about silence, sweeping things under the rug,” Phillips said. “I personally don’t do that. I don’t think most of our board members do that. We do carry out the meetings in a formal manner. We hear your concerns, and then at the matters of the board section, we try to respond to those concerns. And sometimes it may take the following meeting for us to go and dig into some information and find that out for you and then respond about a month later. It draws it out sometimes but we are listening, we aren’t sweeping things under the rug.”