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Schools Should Start In-Person Learning and Develop Summer Plans, Northam Says

All school divisions in Virginia have been directed to establish options for in-person learning by Mar. 15, Gov. Ralph Northam announced today (Friday).

The state is also encouraging school divisions to develop plans to offer some form of classroom instruction during the summer. While extending the school year will not be mandatory, the governor’s office says his administration “is in the process of determining additional resources” to support summer school, including ensuring that educators are properly compensated.

“Our children need to catch up to be ready for learning in the fall,” Northam said during a press conference. “I want our schools to do this safely, and I want them to prioritize students who needs this the most…But it’s time for this to happen. It’s critical to prevent greater learning loss and to support our children’s health and well-being.”

Virginia State Superintendent for Public Instruction Dr. James Lane and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver released interim guidance on Jan. 14 for local education and health officials to use as they determine when and how to offer classes and other activities to students in person.

Northam said he had a “very open, frank conversation” with superintendents from around the state before announcing the Mar. 15 deadline for offering in-person classes.

He also noted that “none of this is set in stone,” but declining COVID-19 case numbers, including testing positivity rates and hospitalizations, as well as increases in vaccinations give him confidence that schools will be able to proceed with reopening and summer school plans.

The governor’s announcement comes just three days after the Fairfax County School Board approved a plan to start phasing students into hybrid in-person learning on Feb. 16. All students who choose to get in-person classes instead of remaining all-virtual will be back in school buildings by Mar. 16 under the timeline developed by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

FCPS officials have discussed the idea of extending the school year in the hopes of providing more in-person instruction and compensating for the learning losses many students have reportedly experienced as a result of distance learning. However, no official plans have been unveiled yet.

FCPS said in a statement that it has budgeted up to $30 million to support summer learning programs, and additional demand is anticipated.

“While there will be associated costs to the extended summer learning, we understand that these resources are essential to accommodate our students and staff during this unique and challenging transition period,” FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said in the statement.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new research last week that indicates schools can safely operate in-person as long as they implement and enforce mitigation measures, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

“In-person learning is critical to the current and future well-being of our children,” Oliver said. “[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.”

Photo via Governor of Virginia/Facebook

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