- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2021

Gov. Ralph Northam set a March 15 deadline for every school district in Virginia to make in-person learning options available for students.

“It’s been a school year, like no other. It’s been hard on children, and it’s been hard on our teachers,” Mr. Northam said. “But we also know this plain fact. Children learn better in classrooms. And that’s where they need to be.”

The governor said this will not be a deadline for all students to return full time, but for schools to have at least some options available, particularly for students that need the resources the most.

Last month, the Virginia Department of Education released new safety guidelines on how to safely transition back to in-person learning with an emphasis on social distancing and other measures. School districts will need to adapt plans that meet those guidelines by the deadline.

Additionally, the Center for Disease Control recently released new guidance recommending students return to the classroom as their data shows schools are low-risk for community spread.

The governor also strongly encouraged school districts to start developing plans for summer school options to help students catch up, but said it will not be mandatory to attend.

“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,” Mr. Northam said, although he noted there could be adjustments made if the COVID-19 case levels are too high around March 15.

In regards to concerns about funding and extending teacher contracts for the summer months, Mr. Northam said the state has funds from the CARES Relief Act and other revenue on the state level.

Currently, Virginia has a mixture of approaches throughout the state with some public and private schools in-person, some only virtual, and others in a hybrid system. 

On Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate passed a bill with bipartisan support that would require schools to offer both in-person and virtual options to students after July 1.

With teachers included in the phase 1B vaccine rollout, some districts have already been working to bring some students back in by March. 

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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