Prince William County starting school year with new superintendent, COVID challenges

In northern Virginia, the first day of school for Prince William County Public School students is Monday and the school district is navigating students and staff’s return to the classroom amid the coronavirus pandemic with a new superintendent.  

The district’s new top boss who hails from Chicago says she’s ready and is reassuring parents that safety is her number one priority.

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It's a historic time for Dr. LaTanya McDade on all fronts.

"I think the best reassurance is that we have to be in school, in-person to make sure that our teachers can engage our students in high-quality learning… we have to get back to the optimal learning model which is in the classroom," said McDade in an interview with FOX 5’s Tisha Lewis.

It's a tall order, even for McDade who joins the northern Virginia school district after spending 23 years with Chicago Public Schools.

"I am a parent and I do understand the concerns that parents have which is why we are making safety a top priority. So I want our parents to know that we are following all of the guidelines from the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health," said McDade.

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That means hand washing, social distancing, and mandatory masks for all inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

Even so, amid rising coronavirus case numbers and the surging Delta variant, McDade would not commit to supporting mandatory vaccines for teachers and staff.

When asked if she supports mandatory vaccinations for teachers, she responded saying, "Well right now vaccinations are not mandated in Prince William County Public Schools.  I feel really great about the percentage of our staff that are vaccinated."

There are no specific statistics on how many Prince William County teachers and staff have received the COVID-19 vaccine but a Prince William County Public Schools spokesperson says "most."

"It's not lost on anyone that this pandemic has been challenging for everyone," said McDade.

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She also weighed in on the controversy in neighboring Loudoun County Public Schools and its policy concerning addressing transgender students by their preferred pronoun.

"It is our responsibility in our county to make sure every single student feels a sense of belonging in our schools.  It's a safe and supportive environment for them to learn," said McDade.

Prince William County Public Schools does currently require teachers and staff to address students by their preferred pronouns.

McDade is Prince William County Public Schools’ first African American superintendent and the school district’s first female superintendent, now leading the Commonwealth’s second-largest school district’s return to the classroom during a historic coronavirus pandemic that sidelines students and staff forcing remote learning for more than a year.