By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Virginia schools will begin reopening and offering in-person instruction in the fall, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) announced at a press briefing this afternoon.
Northam also announced that Northern Virginia will enter phase two of reopening on Friday. With the exception of Northern Virginia and Richmond, most communities in the Commonwealth are already in phase two.
When schools reopen in the fall, the state will follow a phased approach that involves steadily reintroducing in-person instruction alongside continued remote learning and strict social distancing measures, Northam said.
“To be clear, all Virginia schools will open for students next year, but the school experience will look very different,” Northam said. “We’ll start with small groups and we’ll allow each school division the flexibility that it needs to respond to the needs of its own locality.”
For schools that enter the 2020-2021 school year when their jurisdiction is in phase two, instruction will largely remain remote, with some exceptions. Under phase two, schools can begin offering in-person instruction for preschool through third graders, English language learners and students with disabilities. Summer camps in school buildings can commence as well.
“We wanted to focus on getting education to our earliest learners because of the challenges that they were facing in the remote learning environment while also making sure that we can keep them safe,” James Lane, superintendent of public instruction for the Virginia Department of Education, said.
When localities enter phase three, schools will be able to start offering in-person education for all students.
“For the future, phase three will allow schools to shift to in-person instruction for all students, but they will need to put physical distancing measures in place,” Northam said. “For example, schools may have to stagger schedules or adopt class schedules that blend in-person and remote learning.”
Education in phase three may involve a blend of in-person and remote learning. Schools in phase three will be expected to maintain six feet between desks and work stations, restrict the mixing of different groups of students, stagger the use of communal spaces like cafeterias and perform daily health screenings, Northam said.
Staff will still be required to wear face coverings when physical distancing is not possible, while face coverings will be “encouraged” for students.
“We are all looking forward to the day that we’re beyond phase three, resuming to a new normal and having all of our students in buildings every day,” Lane said.