Protests in Williamsburg Spark Debates About Online Learning

No perfect answer exists, when schools attempt to keep going during a pandemic


Students are adaptable in their behaviors and safety practices, but the entire educational system has a harder time flexing to meet new demands

The WJCC School Board regularly meets to discuss and plan to get students to be able to return to the classroom without risking the spread of the virus.

In the Spring of 2020, the Williamsburg-James City County School Board made the decision to move learning to a virtual setting in order to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and their families amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, students have not been back in the school building until the week beginning February 22nd, 2021. Lots of Williamsburg residents supported the decision to switch to virtual learning under the current circumstances, but many others did not. In January, about forty concerned parents and students rallied around the WJCC School Board’s Central Office in protest of online learning.

Williamsburg-James City County School Board member Kyra Cook formerly supported online learning, but now opposes it. When asked what she thinks about online learning, she said that she is “deeply concerned about learning loss as a result of the online learning that’s currently underway” and that “student achievement has suffered.” Cook believes that a lot of work will need to be done in order to make up for the lost time and opportunities to learn.

Likewise, Tara Hurt, a concerned mother of a student who attends Lafayette High School, says “I’m absolutely for in-person learning. I think it’s better for all of the kids emotionally and academically”. When asked about how the school system has handled online learning she said, “I think the school board has done a terrible job during this pandemic. I think the teachers have been wonderful though – they’ve been asked to do so much and fill in so many gaps and for the most part, the teachers I’ve experienced are amazing.” There has certainly been lots of stress put on teachers lately and they have had to modify their entire curriculum just to be able to teach normally. The teachers in our schools have had many fewer opportunities to keep their students engaged using activities and in-person contact, which makes it more difficult to engage the students.

School Board member Lisa Ownby, on the one hand, has been an advocate for online learning, but still supports the School Board’s plan to move students back into the classroom beginning February 22nd. “I know that online working has worked well for [some] students; it has not worked well for other students, so I think we can meet more student’s needs by being in person now,” she says. Ownby has also noted that there have been upsides to online learning; as a member of the School Board’s Student Advisory Committee, students have told her that they have had to learn time management skills with online learning – a skill that they will undoubtedly take back into the classroom and post-secondary education or work.

Online learning has been easy for some, but difficult for others. Some students have been easily distracted at home, especially those with attention disorders.

The WJCC School Board has outlined a plan for learning during the pandemic going forward, now that teachers are getting vaccinated and positivity rates are decreasing. The plan for the rest of the school year is to slowly get the students back in school in a safe and orderly manner. On Monday, high school seniors and sixth-grade middle school students headed back into the building for hybrid learning; on March 1st, the rest will follow.  However, students also have the option to opt-out of going into school. The most important thing is to keep the schools safe and accessible for all students during this trying time and to make the learning experience as easy as possible. Even though the school board is faced with many problems, they seem to be trying their best to get the students to a place where everyone is comfortable, whether it be online or in the school in-person.