Virginia governor allows reopening of K-12 schools as soon as this summer

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday said that the state will allow schools to slowly resume in-person classes this summer and in the fall.

But school districts also will have discretion on how to implement Northam’s plans and may decide their schools will have additional restrictions, depending on local public health conditions. So, for example, schools in Northern Virginia worried about continued Covid-19 infections could decide to hold physical classes but also continue some remote learning.

Northam’s announcement means that by Friday, all public school districts and private schools in the Commonwealth can begin submitting to the state Department of Education their required plans for mitigating the spread and public health risk of Covid-19.

That must happen before they launch in-person instruction for certain student groups as part of Virginia’s phased reopening. But districts can expect they will be able to move forward once they send in their plans.

“Certainly these plans will be reviewed and if there are aspects to a plan that are at variance with social distancing requirements and all of the mitigation factors and best practices identified by the state health department and the CDC, there will be a follow up with the school division to provide support,” said Charles Pyle, Virginia Department of Education spokesperson. “But it is not an approval process.”

Northam in March had ordered school buildings closed through the end of the this academic year and schools shifted to remote learning.

The phased approach to reopening K-12 schools aligns with Virginia’s plan for reopening the economy. Most of the Commonwealth is in phase two, and by Friday, all locations will be. In that phase, social gatherings continue to be limited but business restrictions are eased.

“Resuming in-person instruction is a high priority, but we must do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner,” Northam said in a statement.

Here are the the phases for offering in-person instruction in schools:

—One: Special education programs and child care for working families may be offered.

—Two: Phase One plus preschool through third grade students may attend school as well as English learners, and summer camps in school buildings may operate.

—Three: All students may receive in-person instruction with strict social distancing, which may require alternative schedules that blend in-person and remote learning for students.

—Beyond three: Districts resume “new-normal” operations under future guidance.

All PreK-12 schools in Virginia will be required to deliver new instruction to students for the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of the operational status of school buildings, according to Northam’s office.

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