Northam: Virginia schools will reopen for the 2020-2021 school year

Local News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced schools will reopen for the 2020-2021 school year.

Virginia was among the first states in the country to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the academic year. That announcement came at the end of March.

Similarly to businesses, Gov. Northam said Tuesday that schools will reopen using a phased approach.

Come Friday, June 12, the whole state will have started ‘Phase Two,’ including Richmond and Northern Virginia. That means school districts will also be in ‘Phase Two’ for now. It’s still unclear what stage they’ll be in by fall.

“All Virginia schools will open for students next year but the school experience will look very different,” Northam said. “This approach to reopening our schools protects and prioritizes the health, socioemotional well-being and physical well-being of students and staff as public health conditions evolve.”

Under ‘Phase Two,’ school systems can resume in-person, school-based camps and summer classes for some students. State Superintendent Dr. James Lane said the task force of educators who came up with the reopening plan decided to limit this stage to PreK-3rd grade students, English-language learners and disabled students.

“It prioritizes the needs of our most vulnerable learners for whom in-person instruction is most essential and remote learning was most difficult,” Dr. Lane explained.

During ‘Phase Three,’ Northam said all students can return for in-person classes with restrictions. Some of those include:

  • Desks and work spaces must be 6 feet apart
  • Daily health screenings
  • Staggered classes and cafeteria times
  • Students, especially older ones, are encouraged to wear masks
  • Staff members are required to wear masks where social distancing can’t be achieved
  • Remote learning option available for high-risk students

“It’s important to note that schools may be more limited in their in-person instructional offerings than the phase allows,” Dr. Lane said. “So [the guidelines] provide flexibility for schools to put in more stringent measures if they need to based on the conditions in their community.”

In general, Lane said that school districts will advance through phases at the same time as businesses are allowed to do so in their locality. Before they move forward, districts are required to submit a compliance plan to the Virginia Department of Education, though Lane said state approval isn’t technically required.

Lane said school systems have to be prepared to transition back to remote learning if a second wave of coronavirus forces the state to move backwards.

If that were to happen, ‘Phase One’ allows for in-person instruction of disabled students to continue, as well as school-based childcare for essential workers.

Northam announced Tuesday that Richmond and Northern Virginia would start ‘Phase Two’ on Friday.

As the state continues the reopening process, the governor said the Virginia Department of Health is ramping up its contact tracing staff. He said VDH currently has more than 800 people doing this work and they hope to increase that number to 1,200 by July.

In addition to the coronavirus, Northam talked about the protests that have gone on across Virginia for more than a week. He spoke about reforms that he discussed with the Virginia Police Chiefs Association on Tuesday.

Northam opened the press conference up with a moment of silence for George Floyd, whose funeral was happening at the same time.

These press conferences are normally about the state’s fight against the coronavirus, but at last week’s pressers, Northam addressed the protests that have gone on across the commonwealth and removing the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Ave.

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