RICHMOND— Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Friday called on all K-12 school divisions in the commonwealth to make in-person learning options available by March 15, 2021, in accordance with the health guidance the administration put forward in January and new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Recognizing significant learning losses over the past year, the governor also encouraged school divisions to offer classroom instruction during the summer months for those who choose.
Gov. Northam joined Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane, and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver in applauding educators for their dedication to navigating a challenging and uncertain year and in highlighting data that show in-person learning is safe with proper mitigation measures in place.
“The health and safety of students, educators, school personnel and communities continues to be our top priority,” said the governor. “We know that children learn better in classrooms and that going to school is vital for their social-emotional needs and for receiving critical services like meals.
“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,” Gov. Northam said. “By focusing on mitigation measures, we can provide our kids with safe and equitable learning environments.”
On Jan. 14, 2021, Dr. Lane and Dr. 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 and prioritizes the safe return to in-person learning. On Jan. 21, 2021, 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,” said Oliver. “The Virginia Department of Health 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.”
The governor 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 Northam 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,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “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 confirm that most children infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all.