On Tuesday, Governor Northam announced that all Virginia schools will open for students next year, but it will look different than what we are used to.
"To be clear, all Virginia schools will open for students next year but the school experience will look very different different," Northam said Tuesday.
Phases put in place will slowly allow for in person school instruction but most instruction will start out virtually.
“Closing our schools was a necessary step to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of staff, students, and our communities,” said Governor Northam. “Our schools have risen to the occasion and found ways to provide remote learning opportunities, keep students engaged, continue serving meals for children who otherwise would have gone hungry, and support students and families through an immensely challenging time. Resuming in-person instruction is a high priority, but we must do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner that minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus and meets the needs of the Virginia students who have been disproportionately impacted by lost classroom time.”
Northam said in person instruction will start with small groups and each division can decide how it needs to do this for their own locality.
The phased approach provides some in person instruction over the summer:
· Phase One: special education programs and child care for working families
· Phase Two: Phase One plus preschool through third grade students, English learners, and summer camps in school buildings
· Phase Three: all students may receive in-person instruction as can be accommodated with strict social distancing measures in place, which may require alternative schedules that blend in-person and remote learning for students
· Beyond Phase Three: divisions will resume “new-normal” operations under future guidance
In Phase Two, Preschool through third grade and English language learners can meet in person.
Students with disabilities can as well.
School summer camps can operate with some restrictions as well in Phase Two.
"We wanted to focus on getting education to our earliest learners because of the challenges they were facing in the remote learning environment while also ensuring that we could keep them safe," said Dr. James Lane, the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Phase Three means all students can meet in person, Northam said. Some areas may have to stagger students’ schedules.
Northam said there needs to be six feet between desks and workstations there will also be restrictions on mixing groups of students on areas like cafeterias.
Schools will need to provide remote learning and telework options for high risk students.
Face coverings will be needed where physical distancing can’t be maintained for instructors and students are encouraged to wear face masks.
Schools must submit plans to the Department of Education before entering Phases Two or Three.
Northam said this approach to reopen schools protects and prioritizes students and staff. "I know that our families and faculty and students are anxious to get back to our schools," said Northam. "I think the main message is we'll be back in school this fall."
For more information on the guidelines of each phase, click here.