Henrico Citizen: U.S. Secretary of Education applauds Henrico Schools reopening plans

HENRICO CITIZEN, ANNA BRYSON

Glen Allen High School is an example of what the U.S. Secretary of Education wants to see in schools across the nation. 

“I’m seeing signs of recovery as a country,” said Secretary Miguel Cardona Wednesday. “When you hear band playing, and you hear kids laughing and giggling as they’re practicing volleyball.”

Cardona visited Glen Allen High School on Wednesday along with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-Henrico) as part of his tour around the country to promote the administration’s reopening plan for schools.

The buzzing excitement that filled the halls on Wednesday as students practiced volleyball and played instruments is a reminder of what’s at stake, Cardona said. It’s also a reminder of “what’s possible when we work together, when we follow the mitigation strategies, when we vaccinate as quickly as possible.”

Last week, Cardona sent letters to the governors of Florida and Texas, who are both trying to block the efforts of school district leaders from implementing mask mandates. 

“Not all states are where you are,” Cardona said Wednesday as he thanked Northam and Spanberger for their leadership and support. 

Last week, State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver released a health order mandating that masks be worn in all public and private K-12 schools by everyone 2 years and older. That order took the decision-making process out of the hands of local school boards.

The Richmond School Board voted this week to enact a vaccine mandate for Richmond Public Schools staff. A similar measure has not been publicly mentioned by Henrico County Public Schools officials, and Henrico County officials told the Citizen earlier this month that they are not planning to mandate vaccines for county employees. 

While Cardona encouraged vaccinations on Wednesday, he also said that local communities are best equipped to make decisions for their own community. 

At a roundtable on Wednesday, Henrico County students and teachers shared their excitement and concerns for the upcoming school year. Many mentioned concerns about mental health and appreciation for HCPS’ efforts to provide more resources over the past school year. 

“The county did a really good job of starting to emphasize more mental health aspects… for not only students but also for the staff,” said Eric Byers, a teacher at Highland Springs High School. “It was something that I think helped a lot and I’d love to see that moving forward.”

HCPS has slated federal relief money to fund dozens of school counselors for upcoming years. 

“The American rescue plan funds are intended to help schools safely reopen,” Cardona said. “And we know safely reopening means having enough staff to meet the social and emotional needs of the students.”

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