Schools in Virginia should provide some form of in-person learning by March 15, Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday.
“By that date, I expect every school division to make in-person learning options available in accordance with the guidance,” the Democratic governor said at a press conference. “They also need to plan for summer school options. This won’t be mandatory, but it definitely needs to be an option.”
The announcement comes as leading officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that schools reopen with safety measures, such as face coverings and social distancing. The agency’s director, Rochelle Walensky, told reporters on Wednesday that vaccinating teachers is “not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools” and that there is “increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen.”
“We’ve seen more data now, and it suggests that schools don’t have the kind of rapid spread that we’ve seen in some other congregate settings,” Northam said. “That tells us it’s time to find a path forward to in-person learning.”
Schools in Virginia scrambled to close their buildings in March 2020 when the state was first hit by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, and have been predominantly relying on remote learning ever since. Virginia’s Fairfax County, one of the nation’s most well-funded public school systems, was repeatedly called out by then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for only allowing students to learn in classrooms for two days per week.
Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist, said his colleagues have reported writing more prescriptions for anti-depressants and stimulants as children have developed more behavioral problems, mental health issues, and even substance abuses since the school closure, which has also led to a decline in academic performance.
“I know this has been hard on everyone. It has been a school year like no other,” Northam said. “It’s been hard on children, and it’s been hard on our teachers. But we also know this plain fact: Children learn better in classrooms, and that’s where they need to be.”
The state will provide funding to help implement the safety measures the schools need to reopen safely, Northam said. Those funds will come from state revenue as well as federal dollars allocated through last year’s CARES Act.
Recent weeks have seen several Democrat-run states and cities joining Republican states in pushing to bring students back to classrooms, as President Joe Biden remains committed to reopening America’s schools in the first 100 days of his presidency. Those efforts, however, are usually met with opposition from powerful teachers’ unions.
In Chicago, thousands of public school teachers have refused to return to in-person work, as the negotiation between the school district and teachers union make little progress. In Los Angles, the teachers union joined the school board to push against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed school reopening plan, under which only schools that reopen for in-person learning could get their share of $2 billion in extra funding.