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College educators push for better pay, affordable tuition, press protection

More than 30 educators and five students from colleges around Virginia visited almost 90 legislators’ offices this week to advocate for higher education initiatives. 

Capital News Service



By Jeffrey Knight

More than 30 educators and five students from colleges around Virginia visited almost 90 legislators’ offices last week to advocate for higher education initiatives.

Higher Education Advocacy Day, held Thursday, included faculty from James Madison,  George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and Virginia Union universities as well as community colleges around the state.

Access to affordable higher education was a key talking point. Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal for the upcoming budget increases financial aid for eligible students by more than $45 million. The governor’s proposal also includes increasing support for the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program (TAG), which currently provides up to $3,400 in tuition for undergraduate students attending private, nonprofit colleges in Virginia. The grant would increase to $4,000 per undergraduate student.

“We believe these are important investments in access to higher education and urge the General Assembly to adopt these budget proposals,” organizers said in their talking points.

Another concern for educators was faculty compensation. Virginia’s college faculty salaries are lower than salaries at peer institutions. Organizers said competitive salaries are key to retaining quality educators and researchers.

“If we invest in education, there will be higher returns,” said Patricia Cummins, professor of world studies at VCU.

Educators also lobbied for House Bill 36, patroned by Delegates Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery and Danica Roem, D-Prince William. This bill ensures student journalists the right to exercise freedom of speech and the press in school sponsored media. Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, introduced the companion bill in the Senate, SB80.

“Journalism is not public relations for a school system,” said Roem, a former journalist for the Gainesville Times and the Prince William Times. “Just because an administration official doesn’t like your story does not mean they should have the ability to censor what you are trying to reveal or what you are trying to report.”

Attendants also advocated for SB220 which allows individuals registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to receive in-state tuition at public colleges. Meanwhile, HB 1179, gives refugees and those with Special Immigrant Visas who reside in the commonwealth the right to apply for in-state tuition at such institutions.

Educators also anticipate there will be bills to address the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision in Transparent GMU v. George Mason University in which the court found that the university’s fundraising foundation is not a public entity and therefore not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

“These bills would make it statutory that a foundation is ‘of the public body,’ and thus subject to FOIA requests,” according to the talking points. “We will support this legislation!”

Event organizers also were concerned about certain bills, including HB 228, sponsored by Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper. The bill allows students or student organizations to sue colleges or their employees for violating laws relating to campus free speech.

“Virginia law already protects students’ First Amendment rights, including the right of student organizations with a religious or political mission to limit organization leadership to persons committed to that mission,” stated the talking points. “Presumably students already have the right to seek legal action. Introducing specific language into Code seems to invite judicialization of internal management of student life.”



The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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University of Richmond donates thousands of safety gloves from science labs to local healthcare workers

Faculty gathered up nearly 7,000 pairs of gloves to donate to local healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic where supplies are running low.

RVAHub Staff



As classes moved to remote learning at the University of Richmond, science laboratories across campus are vacant and the safety gear in them is not being used. This prompted UR chemistry and biology professors, in collaboration with administrators, to donate boxes of safety gloves to the Central Virginia Incident Management Team to be delivered to healthcare providers across the state most in need of supplies.

Faculty gathered up nearly 7,000 pairs of gloves to donate to local healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic where supplies are running low.

The idea began with, and is spearheaded by, chemistry professor Mike Leopold, who recognized that healthcare workers were in need of additional personal protective equipment, including gloves.

“I realized that in the transition to remote learning, we would have a number of boxes of gloves sitting around in our labs for months,” said Leopold. “I thought why not make great use of them now and help keep those on the front lines fighting this pandemic safe.”

Leopold initially took the supply from his own research lab to an ER nurse he knows because she had indicated to him they were running low. Leopold realized the broader opportunity and after consulting with the administration at UR about donating more of this specific item, reached out to others.

The gesture spurred additional UR faculty to investigate their own supplies and has prompted healthcare workers to talk with other universities about this possible option.

“As I expected, the response from my colleagues was amazing and we are delighted to help assist in this small way. We hope it encourages others,” Leopold said.



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Distance learning poses challenges for students, teachers

Students and teachers are transitioning from classroom to computer as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Not every subject lends itself to a smooth transition to distance learning, as students and instructors have discovered.

Capital News Service



By Jimmy O’Keefe

Students and teachers at all levels of education are transitioning from classroom to computer as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Not every subject lends itself to a smooth transition to distance learning, as students and instructors have discovered.

“I think we’re all really frustrated,” said Jordyn Wade, a fashion design major at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “But we know that our professors are doing what they can in a really unprecedented situation.”

Wade said that she and her classmates are now meeting remotely through Zoom, a video conferencing platform. Zoom allows students to meet virtually during a time when people can’t meet physically, but distance learning poses challenges for courses that require more than a lecture, like art classes and lab components of science classes.

Students like Wade worked mostly with industrial grade equipment.

“We kind of rely heavily on the school for supplies like sewing machines and the industrial equipment that can cost thousands of dollars,” Wade said. “Now we just stare at each other and they ask us,‘What can you guys do? Can you hand sew an entire jacket before the end of the month?’”

Wade said that one of the most frustrating aspects of distance learning is not being able to receive direct feedback from professors.

“We can’t ask our professors what’s wrong with the garment that we’re making, we can just send them pictures and hope they can figure it out from afar,” Wade said.

Chloe Pallak, a student in VCU’s art program said that many of her projects are being graded on whether or not they are complete.

“To get a grade for an assignment, you just have to do it,” Pallak said. “It really takes away the motivation of wanting to make art and not just complete the assignment.”

Courses that include lab components, such as classes in environmental science, also face challenges as classes move online. Griffin Erney, an environmental studies major at VCU, said that distance learning prevents students from accessing lab materials that are typically provided in the classroom.

“Before the class was online we would just do different activities and be provided with the materials,” Erney said. “Having labs online is more challenging, on top of all the work that we already have.”

On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam issued an order that closed down all K-12 schools in the state for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Davide D’Urbino, a chemistry and organic chemistry teacher at Clover Hill High School in Chesterfield County, said he plans on using computer applications to supplement labs that cannot be completed in the classroom. He said the school division requested that teachers hold off on introducing new learning material.

“The expectation was that you could teach new stuff, but then you have to go back in class and reteach it,” D’Urbino said.

D’Urbino said teachers aren’t allowed to teach new material online because some students may not have internet access. He said he understands why the school division has placed these restrictions but said it “feels weird.”

Distance learning has also presented challenges to teachers trying to adapt to lecturing online.

“Some people say teaching is 75 percent theater, you just go out there and do improv. You can’t really do that online,” D’Urbino said. “It’s very difficult to intervene and correct course if you realize something isn’t quite working out.”

Teachers have also scrambled for ways to continue instruction for students that lack access to the internet.

Janice Barton, a 5th grade science teacher at Honaker Elementary School in Russell County, said that about half of the 60 students she teaches have access to the internet. She said the school is using Google Classroom, a web platform that allows teachers to share files with students through the internet. For students without internet access, teachers create physical packets of learning content.

“We’re working as grade levels, we’re going in and working together to put the packets together,” Barton said. “We have pickup days and drop-off days, and that’s how we are working and dealing with this right now.”

Barton said the school uses phone calls, emails, and the app Remind, which allows teachers to send messages to students to keep in contact with parents and students.

While local school divisions are tasked with making decisions on how to pursue distance learning, the Virginia Department of Education issued guidance to help divisions continue instruction.

VDOE’s guidance to local school divisions includes offering instruction during the summer of 2020, extending the school term or adjusting the next, and adding learning modules to extended school calendars.

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane issued guidance regarding eight high school senior graduation requirements and will be issuing further guidance for half of those, which can not be waived outright.

Two other graduation requirements — training in emergency first aid and the completion of a virtual course — require action by the General Assembly in order to be waived.



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Governor Northam Closes Schools, Recreation Businesses, and Limits Restaurants to To-Go/Carryout

The school closures announcement leaves more questions than answers. Expect school districts to roll ou their plan in the coming weeks.




During Governor Northam’s daily press conference he announced sweeping new measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.

  • Virginia schools will be closed for the rest of the year. This includes both public and private schools.
  • All recreation businesses such as bowling alleys, theaters, etc., are ordered closed.
  • Restaurants my no longer offer any dine-in services. All food must be either delivered or offered t0-go. Social distancing and no more than 10 people will be allowed at a time.
  • Breweries and wineries fall into the same category as restaurants. No tasting room, to-go only.
  • Non-essential businesses may remain open but must have 10 or fewer people at a time. Businesses such as hair salons or tattoo parlors are to be closed due to how close the customer and employees must be due to the nature of the service being offered.
  • Essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and others should adhere to the no more than 10 people at a time and maintain a six-foot cushion between people.

More information will be posted as it becomes available.



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