For more than two years, the Albemarle County School Board has voted, discussed the business of the school division and heard public comments virtually over zoom.
But on Thursday, board members left their homes and headed to the Albemarle County Office Building-McIntire to see one another in person for the first time since Feb. 27, 2020.
“I am thrilled to be back,” said board member Jonno Alcaro. “What I missed most was just being here with all of you, and everybody who came to see us. … It’s an honor to be back.”
Alcaro stepped down as chairman of the board in June 2020. As one of the first orders of business, current chairman Graham Paige presented Alcaro with a commemorative gavel.
Dozens of division staff members and teachers attended the meeting, which had few technical hiccups and otherwise ran seamlessly. No one was accidentally muted — a regular occurrence of virtual meetings. The meeting was streamed online through the division’s website.
Division spokesman Phil Giaramita said turnout for the meeting was better than expected and more than what was typical in pre-pandemic meetings.
“It shows the community’s interest,” he said. “I know the board is grateful for the opportunity to be back.”
One section of the Lane Auditorium, where the School Board holds its meetings, had seats blocked off for social distancing while all the seats were open on the other side. Masks were not required.
Cheryl Knight was one of several teachers who wore red to the meeting in support of the Albemarle Education Association, which recently presented its petition for collective bargaining. The School Board is weighing that request.
“I’m thrilled,” Knight said of being back to in-person meetings. “It’s just nice to see people in the flesh and not be staring at a zoom screen.”
During public comment, the AEA members in attendance stood to show their support as AEA president Vernon Liechti spoke. Liechti called for the School Board to form a task force with AEA to review the resolution for collective bargaining.
Outside Lane Auditorium, the division laid out information about the school system, its strategic plan adopted in the last year, and other pamphlets on a folding table. Giaramita said they were following the lead of local government.
Albemarle County is one of the last localities in the region to return to in-person meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic shifted meetings online. Only the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, and School Board are meeting in-person currently. Among that trio, the School Board is the last to gavel in on the dais of Lane Auditorium this month.
The Charlottesville School Board has regularly met in-person since May 2021.
Much of the logistics for restarting in-person meetings at Lane were handled by the local government side of Albemarle County.
That included blocking off the seats and changing the entrances. Community members are required to enter the auditorium through the center door in the back.
Before the meeting, schools Superintendent Matthew Haas greeted attendees and chatted with board members. He sported a rainbow bow tie for the occasion.
“I’m really excited to be back in person and feel the energy in the room,” he said. “We’ve got lots of people attending tonight, and that makes it extra special to be back on the first night.”