February 19, 2021
The Honorable Ralph S. Northam
Richmond, VA 23219
Dear Governor Northam,
On August 20, 2020 Bristol Virginia Public Schools opened our doors, for four days per week, to all in-person learners. This feat was accomplished a full six months before the deadline set for the remainder of the Commonwealth to open their doors to in-person learners, with a smaller expectation for access. Despite Bristol having peak CDC scores in excess of 1200 (total number of positive cases per 100,000 in the last 14 days), BVPS has provided in-person instruction with a very limited number of positive cases, zero examples of in-school transmission, and zero positive cases since returning to school from Christmas Break. When given the local autonomy to serve our community, we have demonstrated that we can do so in a safe manner with overwhelming success.
We believe that we can do the same thing in regard to the upcoming outdoor sports season. We have already provided a safe indoor sports season that resulted in zero instances of transmission and only a couple of precautionary quarantines. Success, such as I mention, does not happen by accident. Our leadership team developed a return to school and return to sports plan that have been used as templates for other divisions across the state and nation. We have also replicated successful strategies that other divisions have implemented. The key to our success is that it was developed locally, based on community metrics and need, and constantly tweaked for improvement. If given the authority, we can be just as successful with outdoor sports.
Unfortunately, when required to follow a one-size-fits-all plan that is meant to work for Thomas Walker High School in Lee County and Tuscarora High School in Loudoun County, it becomes almost impossible for the plan to be effective. Subtle intricacies such as the lack of consideration of stadium capacity, the refusal to identify band members and cheerleaders as participants while only acknowledging their existence in a hard to find F.A.Q. document, and the ability to sit six feet apart at an indoor sporting event while requiring ten feet of distance at an outdoor event, demonstrate the lack of flexibility and precise attention needed to develop a plan that will actually work locally.
Additionally, to keep attendance at 250 spectators instead of the 307 we are requesting, actually requires more space. This is because limiting participants to only one parent in attendance, as required by the 250 limit, defeats the benefit of allowing family groups to sit together. This is another example of how bureaucracy in Richmond is disconnected from how operations actually work at the local level.
I believe that our band members and cheerleaders are integral members of our school community, and I assert that they are far more than spectators as suggested in the deeply buried F.A.Q. It is for this reason and those mentioned above that I request that you review the two plans for implementing a safe and effective outdoor sporting event, proposed by our local Athletic Department at Virginia High School, and grant permission for us to implement the plan that acknowledges the importance of our band and cheer teams and the significance of their parents being there to support them.
Our legal team believes that we may have the authority to implement the plan without your approval based on Title IX and Exceptions provided in the Executive Order itself. However, in my role as Superintendent I feel that I need to demonstrate to our students the proper way to resolve disagreement with authority, policy, and elected officials.
I understand and appreciate the difficulties you face in your role as Governor during an unprecedented pandemic. At a smaller scale, I have faced similar challenges as well. As we all learned, flexibility and agility are critical skills that are required for leadership during a crisis. I hope that you will consider the plan as submitted and grant Bristol Virginia Public Schools the authority to demonstrate that we can offer outdoor sports in a safe and effective way, while acknowledging the importance of all of our outdoor participants.
Keith Perrigan, Ed.D.
Bristol Virginia Public Schools
cc: Mr. Atif Qarni, Secretary of Education
Dr. H. Norman Oliver, State Health Commissioner
Mr. Daniel Carey, Secretary of Health and Human Resources
Dr. Danny TK Avula, Vaccine Coordinator, Virginia Department of Health
Dr. James Lane, Superintendent of Public Instruction
Dr. Karen Shelton, Mount Rogers Health District Director