Keith Perrigan

Bristol Virginia Public Schools
Bristol, Virginia
Keith Perrigan, Superintendent

Balancing Risk

I am very proud of our successful return to school. We opened on August 20th by providing the option for every student who wanted to return in-person, to do so. We started with a little over 60% of our students making this choice and now are approaching 75%. We have had less than 10 total positive cases of COVID-19 for students and staff combined. (Our Division has an enrollment of 2100 students and 400 staff members) We have experienced more positive cases among our remote students even though they are a much smaller proportion of our student population. I truly believe that by developing a sound plan and having the necessary cooperation from all stakeholders to implement the plan with fidelity, we are providing a safer environment for our students at school than many students have access to in their remote learning environment.

I am very proud of several areas of our return to school plan. First of all, I am proud of the vision of our local School Board. Our School Board predicted that the risks associatedÔÇ»with not returning to school in-person were greater than the alternative. What we have learned is that many students were falling behind academically when school was closed. Many were missing important services that they needed to be successful based on accommodations that can be best provided at school. Many students were not eating healthy, despite the pick-up and delivery options our School Nutrition and Transportation Departments were providing over the summer. Many students were missing behavioral and mental health services that we able to provide at school through community partnerships. Many parents were struggling to make ends meet because of childcare needs. And unfortunately, we have found that some students were living in abusive and neglectful situations while we were closed.

When you compare what we now know to the fears that we faced as we were making these decisions about reopening, our balanced view of risk has enabled us to better serve our students, families, and communities. I couldn’t be prouder of our students, staff, schools, and community.

I am also proud of the community support we have received for providing in-person opportunities of learning. Part of that support manifested itself in a community partnership that has helped us to provide a safer learning environment. As a result, we are collaborating with a non-profit health provider, Southwest Community Health Systems to provide Rapid Testing for our students and staff. This has enabled us to react quicker when we’ve had a positive case, and to rest easier when a potential case comes back negative.

Finally, I am proud of our teachers who are teaching in 2 models at the same time. They are providing excellent in-person instruction while continuing to serve their students at home. Teachers are making it work based on the individual needs of their classrooms and students. Some are recording lessons, some are live streaming remote students in with their other classmates, and some are scheduling times to meet with remote students at mutually convenient times to ensure their success.

By balancing all the risks associated with reopening schools, we have found that the best option for Bristol Virginia Public Schools was to offer in-person opportunities for our families. We are seeing our students grow in every aspect and we hope that we are able to provide this option throughout the course of the pandemic.