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Northam sets March 15 target date for K-12 in-school options

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“Children learn better in classrooms,” Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday, calling on all K-12 school divisions in Virginia to make in-person learning options available by March 15.

“Going to school is vital for their social-emotional needs and for receiving critical services like meals,” Northam said. “It is also important for our youngest learners, students with disabilities, and those with limited access to technology who have struggled most with remote learning. By focusing on mitigation measures, we can provide our kids with safe and equitable learning environments.”

The plan laid out by the governor today is based on health guidance the Northam administration put forward in January and research from the CDC.

“The health and safety of students, educators, school personnel, and communities continues to be our top priority,” said Northam, who communicated his goals to school superintendents on a call this morning and in a letter available here.

On Jan. 14, State Superintendent for Public Instruction Dr. James Lane and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver, released interim guidance for safely re-opening PreK-12 schools in a letter to school superintendents and local health directors.

This incorporated and replaced the phased guidance for Virginia schools and interim guidance for mitigation measures in K-12 settings previously issued by the Commonwealth prioritizes the safe return to in-person learning.

On Jan. 21, the Biden administration also issued an executive order to support the safe reopening of schools.

“In-person learning is critical to the current and future well-being of our children,” Oliver said. “VDH remains committed to supporting school districts in getting kids back into classrooms as we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and get Virginians vaccinated.”

House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn gave her backing to the Northam plan.

“Today, Gov. Northam took a critical step in moving our Commonwealth past the effects of this pandemic,” Filler-Corn said. “Returning our children to in-person instruction is a top priority for our Democratic House Majority and we will continue to work with the Governor to get our teachers vaccinated and pass legislation to have our kids back at their desks with the necessary guardrails to keep our children, families, teachers and staff safe.”

Northam also announced that his administration will be working to support local decisions around expanding summer learning opportunities. While the Commonwealth is not mandating extended learning time during the summer, the administration is in the process of determining additional resources to support this as an option for school divisions to offer.

“For those who choose to return to in-person instruction, we know that school will not look the same as students remember it from past years,” Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said. “However, implementing evidence-based public health strategies will provide students who need it most the opportunity to have an in-person environment to learn and develop academically, socially, and emotionally.”

Growing evidence, including a new CDC study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that with proper health and safety protocols, the risk of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 is low in school settings.

Additional data confirms that most children infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all.

“Virginia’s students and their learning have been dramatically impacted due to school building closures over the last year,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane said. “By providing more in-person instructional opportunities, while implementing strong and consistent health mitigation measures, we can successfully support students’ academic growth and social emotional well-being. We are grateful for the divisions and schools already providing these opportunities in accordance with state guidance and look forward to working alongside others to ensure students and families have this option.”

The Virginia Department of Health recommends schools use the CDC Indicators for Dynamic School Decision-Making jointly with the Interim Guidance for K-12 School Reopening document to inform decisions about school operations with regard to COVID-19.

VDH also maintains a school metrics dashboard, which compiles a variety of data sources, providing a visualization of COVID-19 community transmission by region and data trends in specific communities to guide local and state governments and school officials in determining whether additional mitigation measures are appropriate.


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