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VA Officials Support Multigenerational Families in School Reopening

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Some Virginia grandparents raising grandchildren have had difficulties helping them navigate computers for online learning during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)
Some Virginia grandparents raising grandchildren have had difficulties helping them navigate computers for online learning during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)

 By Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA - Producer, Contact
March 12, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. - As Virginia schools plan to reopen their doors again on Monday, changes from virtual learning during the pandemic have raised concerns about the challenges faced by multigenerational families and grand-families.

More than 180,000 grandparents, often in high-risk age groups for COVID infection, are living with their grandchildren in the Commonwealth, according to U.S. Census data. And more than 63,000 grandparents bear sole responsibility for grandkids.

Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, said school divisions took this issue into account when planning their reopening.

"When you have a situation because of a multigenerational household with high-risk members," said Pyle, "our school divisions have been making those decisions to bring the children back into the buildings with all of the proper mitigation strategies. They're also providing those virtual options for those who just aren't ready to come back yet."

Pyle pointed to research showing children with special learning needs benefit more from in-person instruction, and some students have fallen behind in math and reading with virtual learning.

He sought to reassure grandparent caretakers that the school systems will be safe and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when they reopen.

Multigenerational families are caught between the danger of catching COVID from in-person learning, and issues around knowing how to use technology for virtual learning.

Jaia Peterson Lent, deputy executive director with Generations United and co-director of the National Center on Grandfamilies, said some seniors had trouble getting broadband access and helping grandkids operate online.

"We're seeing with grand-families, particularly near the beginning of the pandemic, wanting to support their child and distance learning," said Peterson Lent. "But they had six different classes with six different links to find multiple places. And perhaps if you have a caregiver who's just less comfortable with technology, it was really difficult to support that child."

Gov. Ralph Northam acknowledged this week that some multigenerational families are hesitant to return children to the classroom. He said for now, schools will continue to provide virtual learning to support those families.

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