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Parents are changing their minds on in-person school – in most cases, there are no other options

As the Delta variant of COVID-19 takes foot, some parents who chose an in-person option for their kids are rethinking that. But there may not be an alternative in some districts.

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Families with Richmond Public Schools had until June 1 to choose between enrolling virtually or attending classes in person. At that point in the summer, COVID-19 vaccines were widely available to adults, new cases had dropped to less than 200 a day, and almost no one had heard of delta, the highly transmissible variant that now accounts for virtually all new infections across the U.S.

“It seemed like we were not at the end of things, but that there was an end coming,” Yeager said. Her four children — none of whom are old enough to be vaccinated — had managed a year of remote school fairly well. But the encouraging outlook convinced Yeager to enroll them in-person.

By the time cases began climbing, it was too late to change her mind. The vast majority of Virginia school divisions, including Richmond, required families to make a decision about the upcoming semester in late May or early June. Virtual enrollment is now closed, and many are denying an influx of requests from parents and students who changed their minds.

Yeager is one of hundreds of families stuck with face-to-face learning even as a third coronavirus surge casts a pall over the school year. Some districts have already quarantined dozens — or hundreds — of students after COVID-19 exposures. Earlier this week, the Virginia Department of Health urged Amherst County to temporarily close all its secondary schools after an outbreak in the district.

But local divisions are limited in how widely, and for how long, they can close schools thanks to a state law mandating in-person instruction (passed in the early, and optimistic, days of Virginia’s vaccine rollout). Late last summer, a spike in cases spurred the majority of districts to reopen with hybrid or fully remote learning plans. This year, with new infections reaching even higher levels, they don’t have that option. 

Nor are they required to offer remote instruction. “While school divisions need to provide five days of in-person learning to any family who wants it for their students in the fall, school districts are not obligated to provide a virtual option for all students,” Fairfax County reminded families in May. The vast majority of them — 110 out of 132 local divisions — are using Virtual Virginia, a state-run program with its own teachers and curriculum.

Ten districts aren’t offering any virtual option at all, according to Charles Pyle, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Education. And some divisions providing their own virtual courses have even tighter restrictions. Fairfax County, for example, is limiting remote learning to students with medical needs documented by a licensed health professional. The deadline to enroll in the program was May 28, and a little more than 400 students, out of roughly 180,000 across the district, are participating.

“Family health/medical conditions are not considered for this program and eligibility is not extended to siblings or other students in a household,” spokesperson Kathleen Miller wrote in a statement on Friday. “Enrolling additional students would require additional staffing, which has already been a significant challenge.” 

Providing both in-person and virtual learning, as many schools have done over the course of the pandemic, have created escalating burdens for local divisions — even with millions of dollars in federal aid. In addition to teacher burnout, administrators have struggled to find enough staff to fill instructional and support positions, especially with regular exposures forcing many into quarantine. In a presentation to lawmakers last fall, state Superintendent James Lane described staffing as one of the biggest challenges facing Virginia’s schools.

Those ongoing needs, combined with the state mandate, offer few incentives for schools to continue providing their own remote learning options. Brian Mott, the executive director for Virtual Virginia, said enrollment in the program was open to any student until their district’s deadline. But he also said planning needs made it difficult to accommodate a wave of later registrations.

“We’ve got to make sure we have the appropriate staff to support them,” Mott said. “The other reason is communication. Students don’t just enroll and start the next day. We need to be setting them up and supporting them as soon as possible.”

Many local districts are also limiting virtual enrollment to students who can show they were successful with the modality — another process that takes time, he added. Despite the division-wide policies to curb late registrations, though, that’s exactly what’s happening across the state. Mott said there have been more than 1,200 enrollment requests from individual schools in recent weeks, most of which involve multiple students.

Virtual Virginia is offering a “limited number” of late enrollment slots, with a priority on students with medical needs, students from military families, or transfers who entered a school division after the cut-off date, Pyle said. But some individual districts are seeing even higher demand.

The waitlist for Henrico’s Virtual Academy now sits at more than 3,000 students — an increase of around 800 compared to two weeks prior, the Henrico Citizen reported

The district is attempting to hire more teachers to accommodate the waitlist, according to the Citizen. Other divisions, though, are simply denying the requests.

“Students who have not chosen the virtual option will not be permitted to change to virtual,” said Diana Gulotta, a spokesperson for Prince William County Schools, the second-largest division in the state. “Those with documented health conditions can apply for homebound services.” 

Unlike Fairfax County, which is Virginia’s largest school district, Prince William isn’t currently requiring its staff to be vaccinated.

Richmond is another division mandating vaccines for its staff, and Yeager said that’s provided her with some degree of comfort. But while she understands the constraints facing local school districts, she’s frustrated — like many families — over the lack of flexibility amid a constantly changing pandemic.  

Delta has changed the conversation, she said. Research on earlier variants indicated that children were less susceptible to COVID-19 than adults and displayed milder symptoms when they contracted the virus. But the rise of delta has corresponded with worrying reports of increasing pediatric cases and hospitalizations, especially in hard-hit areas. Ballad Health, for example — the primary hospital system in far southwestern Virginia — has reported several COVID-19 admissions in their pediatric ICU.

“We are seeing children dying, though I know, intellectually, the chances of that happening are very small,” Yeager said. It’s still not clear if delta presents any more of a risk to children than previous variants. Public health experts have pointed out that pediatric hospitalizations are still the same proportion of the total, but that the overall number is rising given the higher transmissibility of the variant. 

Right now, though, delta poses the greatest risk to the unvaccinated — a population that still includes children under 12. Authorization for that age group isn’t expected before the end of this year, according to some federal officials. And many parents aren’t willing to take the risk.

“I would love to be wrong,” Yeager said. “But delta is so terribly infectious. Kids can’t be masked all the time. I don’t see how it’s going to be other than … I can’t even think of a polite way to put it.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Downtown

Island Shrimp Co. opening in former Conch Republic space at Rocketts Landing next March

A second location of the HOUSEpitality Family concept is set to open this spring.

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Local restaurant group HOUSEpitality Family announced that it will open its second Island Shrimp Co. location at Rocketts Landing in March 2022.

The restaurant will be located next to The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing in the space that was formerly occupied by Conch Republic. The first Island Shrimp Co., also known as ISCo, location opened in 2019 at Chesterfield Towne Center. The new location will offer the flavors of the tropics for a city-inspired port-to-plate experience in an artistic seaside environment.

“We’re looking forward to adding another HOUSEpitality Family concept at Rocketts Landing, an area that has been special to us since we opened The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing in 2009,” said Kevin Healy, owner of HOUSEpitality Family restaurant group. “At the time, The Boathouse was the first restaurant to utilize the riverfront location along the James and our whole team is excited that the second location of Island Shrimp Co. will be right on the water.”

Menu items will include favorites like garlic shrimp, lumpia and lobster and shrimp fried rice and the drink menu will feature beach-inspired cocktails like the hurricane, painkiller, mojito and the ISCO-original Blue Typhoon.

Island Shrimp Co. at Rocketts Landing will offer an ambiance that marries city and seaside. Like the original Island Shrimp Co., HOUSEpitality Family considered the full dining experience and will incorporate several Instagram-ready photo opportunities when developing the space.

Island Shrimp Co. is currently hiring for a number of positions, including lead cooks, line cooks, servers, bartenders, hosts, dishwashers and support staff. Those interested in applying for a position at the new Island Shrimp Co. can visit www.growwiththefam.com.

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Community

Mending Walls Artwork Stolen

Stealing this art makes no sense and just seems to be a hurtful act.

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Spotted on the Mending Walls Facebook.

Mending Walls has been about bringing people together through creative means. It is baffling that someone would try to silence this conversation.

Our purpose is to inspire empathy and connection. We were very excited to invite you all to see the final display created by the wonderful local artist who we’ve been highlighting over the last couple of weeks in collaboration with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Richmond, VA)

The art was installed on November 17th and by the morning of the 18th artwork work was missing without a trace.

Events like this assures us that our work and purpose is causing change.

“If your voice had no power, they would not try to silence you.”

Mending Walls is a public art project that brings together public artists from different cultures and backgrounds to create murals that address where we are now in society and how we can move forward through understanding and collaboration. They’re responsible for many of the iconic murals you see in town.

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Community

What’s Going Down in Downtown for the Holidays

This extensive list was provided by Venture Richmond. The fun starts this weekend with the biggie RVA Illuminates on Friday, December 3, 5:45PM at Kanawha Plaza,

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Venture Richmond has compiled a list of activities to plan your holidays Downtown with family and friends, so be sure to check our website for updates throughout November and December.

Craft + Design 2021 

Friday-Sunday, November 19-21 at Main Street Station, 1500 E. Main St.

Now in its 57th year, Craft + Design is a museum-quality show that has garnered a reputation for showcasing the finest in contemporary craft. Shoppers spend the weekend browsing the work of artists from all over the country. Awards are presented in ceramics, precious metals, glass, wood and recycled materials, contemporary design, innovative use of traditional craft materials and fiber. Fee for tickets. https://www.visarts.org/events/craft-design-show/

 

Shop Small Saturday

Saturday, November 27, 11AM-6PM, in Downtown RVA

Visit Downtown RVA and support the local shops and small businesses like Little Nomad, Verdalina, Someday, Maven Made, Shockoe Bottom Clay and more for Shop Small Saturday, a nationally celebrated shopping holiday that highlights local and small business owners! To read more about shopping downtown, visit https://venturerichmond.com/explore-downtown/shopping/

 

Richmond Symphony presents Let It Snow!

Saturday, November 27, 8PM at Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St.

It’s Richmond’s favorite holiday musical tradition – now on Thanksgiving weekend! Celebrate the season with family, friends and the Richmond Symphony at the Carpenter Theatre. Carols, classics and sparkling holiday favorites – even a visit from Santa! Conducted by Chia-Hsuan. Fee for tickets.

https://www.dominionenergycenter.com/events/detail/richmond-symphony-pops

RVA Illuminates

Friday, December 3, 5:45PM at Kanawha Plaza, 801 E. Canal St.

A time-honored Richmond tradition will continue in 2021! See RVA shine when the switch is flipped ON to light up downtown’s skyline for the 2021 holiday season at 6:00pm. RVA Illuminates is back in-person this year with ABC8 News airing live complete coverage of performances, uplifting stories, and the official lighting. Be sure to join in the festive fun by lighting up your own storefronts and homes too! This event is coordinated by the City of Richmond Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities. Free event.

 

Christmas Under the Clocktower

Friday, December 3, 7PM at Main Street Station, 1500 E. Main St.

The second annual event where local nonprofits show off their creativity by designing Christmas trees! Vote for your favorite in-person or online December 3-December 19. Free event.

https://www.facebook.com/events/206490788290894

 

RVA First Friday

Friday, December 3, 5-11PM in downtown’s Arts District along Broad Street

Show Broad Street some love and holiday spirit when you explore galleries, shops, restaurants, nonprofits and more on the first Friday of every month at RVA First Friday along and around Broad Street. Free to attend, fees for shopping. https://www.facebook.com/events/223796113036927

 

Christmas Eve with C.S. Lewis

December 3-12 at Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St.

In this festive production, viewers find C.S. Lewis at his home near Oxford on Christmas Eve hosting a group of Americans who are Christmassing in England. They are about to experience an unforgettable assortment of Yuletide recollections which stimulates a whole range of emotions – curiosity, laughter, gladness and even some tears. Above all, they will discover how an encounter with JRR Tolkien forever changed Lewis’s Christmas celebrations. Fee for tickets.

https://www.dominionenergycenter.com/events/detail/christmas-eve-with-cs-lewis

 

Dominion Energy Christmas Parade

Saturday, December 4, starts at the Science Museum of Virginia at 10:15AM, travels eastbound on Broad St., ends at 7th and Marshall Sts. downtown

Welcome back the Dominion Energy Christmas Parade for its 38th annual parade celebration featuring colorful floats, giant helium balloons, high school and college marching bands, princesses, superheroes and returning favorites including the trademark Wells Fargo stagecoach, the VCU Peppas and Legendary Santa! The parade also airs LIVE on WTVR CBS6. Free event. Rain or shine.

https://www.richmondparade.org/

 

Richmond Symphony presents A Baroque Holiday

Saturday, December 4, 7:30PM at the Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St.

The greatest story ever told. The most majestic music ever conceived. Be there for the greatest moments from Handel’s Messiah with the Richmond Symphony, Richmond Symphony Chorus, and soloists. Plus, other Baroque classics to brighten your holiday musical celebration. Fee for tickets. 

https://www.dominionenergycenter.com/events/detail/a-baroque-holiday-1

 

Richmond Makers Market: Holiday Cheers

Sunday, December 5, 12-6PM at Basic City Beer Co., 212 W. 6th St.

This Makers Market features new makers monthly ranging from candlemakers and crafters to confections and works of clay. Head to Manchester’s Basic City Beer Co., a dog-friendly brewery, for an afternoon of shopping and supporting local RVA makers. 

https://www.facebook.com/events/1068760510561265

 

Movies on Brown’s Island: Elf

Saturday, December 11, 5:30PM on Brown’s Island, 500 Tredegar St.

Movies on Brown’s Island, presented by Dominion Energy, is an outdoor family activity, brought to you by Venture Richmond Events. Pack your chair or blanket, bring a picnic dinner, then find your perfect spot on Brown’s Island and enjoy an evening featuring Elf while taking in the stunning views of the James River and Downtown’s holiday skyline.  

Seating is first come, first served. Bringing blankets and/or chairs for comfort is recommended. No seating will be provided. Vendors for the event include Strawberry Street Events and Espresso-A-Go-Go. No pets are allowed on premises during the movies. Parking is available at the Belle Isle parking lot and on-street parking is available along 2nd and 5th Streets. Gates open at 5PM; Show starts at 5:45PM. Tickets are $5 per person (ages 5 and under no ticket needed) and can be purchased in advance online or at the gate. https://venturerichmond.com/our-events/movies-on-browns-island/

 

Richmond Boat Parade of Lights

Saturday, December 11, 5:30PM along downtown’s riverfront, best views from Libby Hill Park in Church Hill and at Rocketts Landing

Each year, boaters decorate their boats and converge on the James River for a parade that marks the beginning of the holiday season. Grab the family and gather at one of the several viewing sites to see the boats and enjoy holiday entertainment. Free event. 

https://www.facebook.com/events/174697928104850

 

Richmond Night Market

Saturday, December 11, 5-9PM at 17th Street Market, 100 N. 17th St.

Richmond Night Market is a monthly, open-air night market held at the 17th Street Market and features a family-friendly experience filled with music, programming, and independent artists and vendors. Shop the local artists and support the Shockoe Bottom restaurants too. Entertainment and programming include live music and cultured and diverse activities for all ages! Free to attend, fees for vendors. https://www.richmondnightmarketva.com/

 

Richmond Ballet’s The Nutcracker

December 11-23 at the Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St.

The Nutcracker makes its triumphant return this 2021 holiday season! Accompanied by the Richmond Symphony, Clara and her adoring Nutcracker, the glittering butterfly and dancing Russian bear will once again charm audience members of all ages. This is the final opportunity to see this version of our beloved production before it’s reimagined for 2022. Fee for tickets.

https://richmondballet.com/event/the-nutcracker/2021-12-11/

 

Winter Wander: Celebrate Court End

Sunday, December 12, noon-4PM at The Valentine, 1015 E. Clay St.

Save the date and join The Valentine for some winter cheer on their picturesque block of East Clay Street! There will be hot beverages, family crafts and games, and live music. You can also take a self-guided tour of the historic Court End neighborhood and hop on a shuttle to visit nearby cultural sites for open houses and other activities. Free event.

https://thevalentine.org/event/winter-wander-celebrate-court-end/

A Black Christmas in Jackson Ward

Saturday, December 18, noon-7PM at 10 E. Leigh Street

Join RVA Black Farmer’s Market and The Exclusive Blacklist as they present a merry time celebrating the holiday season with a vendor market, food vendors and live music happening in the heart of the Jackson Ward neighborhood. Free to attend, fee for vendors. 

 

Continued updates and potential schedule changes can be found on Venture Richmond’s website: 

https://venturerichmond.com/news/downtown-rva-2021-holiday-calendar/

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