by: Brian Vanyo
I am disappointed in the Albemarle County School Board for its complete lack of oversight on a matter affecting student health and well-being due to teacher and administrator hysteria over COVID-19.
A month ago, I learned that Burley Middle School teachers were denying student requests to close classroom windows during cold weather. One teacher told students that classroom windows would remain open all year and that they should bring blankets to class if cold, and some did. I asked Burley administrators about this, and the Vice Principal informed me that keeping windows open was one of their COVID mitigation procedures to increase air circulation. Yet this rule violated county guidance, which states that windows would remain open only when “outside temperature and humidity allow.” In addition, new air purifiers and HVAC systems, which were upgraded at the beginning of the pandemic, have improved inside air quality such that “airflow is healthier than simply opening a window because of those filtration systems,” according to an email from the county’s Strategic Communications Officer.
Despite notifying the School Board on October 14 of this clear violation of county guidance, the Board did nothing to intervene. When classroom windows remained open during freezing temperatures last week, I again asked the Board to act. School Board Chair Graham Paige first deflected the issue, referring to the county’s guidance. Then he denied any wrongdoing by expressing his blind faith in Burley’s adherence to that guidance despite video evidence to the contrary. And finally he disavowed any duty to intervene, stating in an email that “the Board does not become involved in decisions on operational practices directly related to a specific school.”
While I am encouraged that the Burley Principal recently expressed her intent to enforce county policy on this matter, I remain discouraged by the unwillingness of the School Board to exercise its responsibility of oversight. It is clear to me, and many others across Virginia, that School Boards act as defenders of teachers and administrators in schools rather than as representatives of parents and residents in the county. This must change.