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VA family considers moving over school district's virtual learning plans

Prince William County parent Billie Dunham said she's concerned virtual learning could harm the education and mental health of kids in underserved families.

HAYMARKET, Va. — Some families are not too happy with school districts’ plans to kick off classes with a full-time distance learning model this fall.

Montgomery, Fairfax and Arlington counties are just a few of the school districts in the DMV region that have recently decided to begin the school year with virtual classes.

Prince William County adopted a plan to do so last week. Its school board voted unanimously to have most of the district’s students participate in all virtual learning for the first quarter before reevaluating how to move forward after that.

RELATED: Prince William County approves all-virtual start to school year

Prince William County parent Billie Dunham had petitioned the school board at one of its meetings to consider including an in-person instruction option for the start of the school year as well.

Dunham, a parent of four Prince William County Public Schools students, said her intention was not to take away a virtual option from students or staff who may be immunocompromised.

“We're trying to give the children who aren’t at risk, and the teachers who are less at risk, the ability to be in-person, [to] have that option available,” she said.

Dunham said distance learning did not work well for her children when they experienced it this spring.

She said while juggling her virtual work at home, she occasionally had to tend to her kindergartner who would sometimes fall asleep during class storytime.

Dunham also said her oldest son probably did not receive as high of a grade as he should have in one class because he did not receive the sort of hands-on help he would gotten at school.

RELATED: Fairfax County will begin 2020-2021 school year with 100% virtual learning

However, Dunham said she said has another big concern moving forward.

“For us, our risk is more about the mental health [situation] and the long-term impacts of an uneducated society,” she said.

Dunham said her family considered transferring their children to nearby private schools. However, she said they quickly learned there was an influx of people looking to do the same thing.

Now, Dunham said her family is planning to move to a community where their children can receive in-person learning.

She said she is concerned with how political she believes the discussion over the reopening situation has become, and said it should be depoliticized.

“When I told my daughters, they broke down into tears,” she said. “And, I told them I understood, because we have to mourn the loss of the community that we thought we had. And the infrastructure, the education, the support systems that we thought we had. We're going to have to move where we can build that community again.”

But, Dunham said, at this point, she is more worried about how other families in Prince William County will adapt to virtual learning.

She mentioned her concerns during last week’s school board meeting.

"We have the resources at home,” Dunham said. “We are a two-parent family and virtual school failed our children. I can't imagine what it will do for the have nots."

RELATED: VA teacher, COVID-19 survivor opposes full school reopening

She said she is worried about children who do not have access to WiFi or kids whose parents cannot support them because they must go to work during the day.

“What we're trying to come up with is not an ‘us versus them’,” she said. “It's how do we work collectively because we all understand the importance of an in-person education.”

Dunham said she has gotten several messages thanking her for making her stance public. However, not all teachers agree.

One Prince William County teacher, who survived the coronavirus, told WUSA9 in early July that she does not understand the push to have students return to school buildings in the fall.

“As an American, as a Virginian, and as a member of Prince William County, I feel like it doesn't speak truth to what our circumstances are and what our educators are really up against," teacher Catherine Smart said.

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