RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Education has updated its back-to-school- guidance with new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In January, the VDOE released updated guidelines to localities on how to resume in-person learning safely. The updated plan now incorporates elements from the CDC’s Operational Strategy for K12 schools.

The CDC recommends a phased approach to applying instructional modality (e.g., in-person, hybrid, virtual), grouped by elementary vs. middle/high school, depending on the level of community transmission and adherence to mitigation strategies.

The new guidance says that schools should assess their ability to implement and adhere to the
following five key mitigation strategies: wearing masks, physical distancing, washing hands, cleaning and disinfection and contact tracing. Schools should also monitor community transmission using two measures: total number of new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days; and the percentage of nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) including RT-PCR tests that are positive during the last seven days.

Guidance is given to help officals make decisions about school operations. The guiding principles from VDOE:

  • Offer in-person learning, as capacity allows, considering both students and staff. Account for the learning needs and the health needs of all students. A gradual approach to increasing options for
    in-person learning can help schools be successful.
  • Prioritize elementary students, students with disabilities, and English Learners for in-person learning. Provide in-person instruction for any priority learner that wants it.
  • Put education first. Prioritize educational opportunities over athletics, extracurricular activities or other events in the school and surrounding community. Establish reasonably safe in-person
    educational environments and then think through including extracurriculars and athletics.
  • Focus on prevention. Establish a school culture of adherence to mitigation strategies both in and out of school. Establish environments in which people physically distance, wear masks correctly and consistently, practice hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and clean and disinfect frequently. Coordinate closely with your local health department. Educate students/staff to monitor health daily and stay at home if they have symptoms, and follow public health recommendations.
  • Consider community needs. Consider disease data and understand the socioeconomic factors, literacy barriers, and other educational needs in your community when making plans.
  • Be flexible and innovative. Scientific knowledge evolves rapidly, and local context is incredibly important. Decisions about instructional modality ideally should be made for shorter periods of time (e.g., 2-4 weeks) in response to changing disease dynamics rather than for longer periods or months ahead of time.

To learn more about Virginia’s revised back-to-school guidance, click here.