Child advocates worry virtual learning will make it harder to spot abuse


LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — When the Lynchburg City School Board voted to have all-remote learning for the first nine weeks of the school year, it raised some concerns about the impact of losing the in-person connection between teachers and students.

Specifically, some members of the community wonder what this means in terms of a teacher’s ability to spot warning signs of abuse or neglect. Experts say that online learning may have to change how teachers think about this topic.

Ultimately, health and the virus was the top priority.

“If you look at the data, it is worse in this area than it has ever been,” said Karl Loos, President of the Lynchburg Education Association, “and it’s just not safe for students or staff to go back.”

As one speaker pointed out at the Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4, keeping kids out of school has its own risks.

“Some are suffering from physical abuse without any intervention from the people who are in their place of safety: the classroom,” said Sandra Travis.

Cristy Horsley works with Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), an organization that advocates for children facing abuse or neglect. She says teachers play a key role in spotting abuse.

“They know behavior patterns for our kids. They know when something’s off. I’ve definitely had a lot of cases that were identified by the school.”

While Horsley says health is the priority, she says some warning signs can only be noticed in person.

“If the child is consistently coming with a body odor and clothes inappropriate to the weather and no food, and things like that.”

According to Horsley, virtual learning may mean teachers will look for other signs that they should check in with the family.

“If there are kids that haven’t logged in for a while by internet or maybe the teachers can’t connect with them by phone.”

However, she says it’s not so simple. Other factors — like poor internet access or general loss of normalcy due to the pandemic — could contribute to a lack of contact.

Horsley says this is a time for teachers to increase contact with families. More broadly, she says neighbors in all communities should check in with each other and see how they’re coping.

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