|RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today 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 Northam 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, Governor Northam also encouraged school divisions to offer classroom instruction during the summer months for those who choose.
Governor Northam joined Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane, and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, MD, MA in applauding educators for their dedication to navigating a challenging and uncertain year, and highlighting data that show in-person learning is safe with proper mitigation measures in place. The governor, along with top state education and public health officials, communicated this goal to school superintendents on a call this morning and in a letter available here.
“The health and safety of students, educators, school personnel, and communities continues to be our top priority,” said Governor Northam. “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. By focusing on mitigation measures, we can provide our kids with safe and equitable learning environments.”
On January 14, 2021, 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 January 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 State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, MD, MA. “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.”
Governor 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 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 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,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “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 (VDH) 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.
In 2020, Governor Northam directed $492 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to public schools and PreK-12 state-level education initiatives, with all 132 school divisions receiving funds. This included an allocation of $220 million in October, $66.8 million through the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund in June, and $238.6 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund for K-12 activities in May. Funding has supported COVID-19 preparedness and response measures for the 2020–2021 school year, including testing supplies, personal protective equipment, sanitization, and technology for distance learning.