Virginia schools will open in fall, Northam says

Mike Still • Jun 10, 2020 at 8:00 AM

RICHMOND — Virginia schools will reopen in the fall, but under COVID-19 guidelines similar to the state’s phased reopenings of businesses and public spaces.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday a two-phase framework for how public schools will start classes in the fall, including phase-one provisions for special education, child care and school-based summer camps before the fall semester.

Northam said remote instruction will remain a part of how schools operate in the coming school year, although not as widespread as it was when he ordered schools closed on March 23 for the remainder of the spring semester.

The phases for school reopening parallel the phases in Northam’s Forward Virginia reopening plan. Most of the state is under phase two, except for Richmond and Northern Virginia. Those regions join the rest of the state Friday.

Individual school divisions will have the flexibility to adjust their reopenings to local needs in the community, Northam said.

State Superintendent of Instruction James F. Lane outlined “Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020” —http://www.doe.virginia.gov/support/health_medical/covid-19/recover-redesign-restart.shtml# — which details the various phases of reopening. Each public and private school will have to submit a detailed plan on measures to comply with federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health guidelines for their reopenings in each phase.

All schools now fall under phase one, Lane said, and that allows for in-person special education, child care for working families and for school-based summer camp activities based on social distancing and federal/state health guidelines. No athletic or extracurricular activities are allowed in phase one.

Under phase two guidelines, students will be able to return to in-person classes for preschool through third-grade classes and for classes for English learners. In-person instruction for disabled students also will be allowed. Other grades would still remain on remote instruction.

Athletics face additional restrictions under phase two of the RRR 2020 plan. Restrictions include individual or team-based practice, skill-building drills or conditioning activities that allow maintenance of physical distancing at all times.

The state Department of Health also recommends that no youth recreational/school sports competition take place in phase two unless physical distancing can be maintained at all times.

Competition that involves contact with other athletes should be avoided. Social distancing for recreational sports is allowable if 10 feet of distance can be maintained by all participants and spectators at all times and all shared items can be disinfected between uses. The total number of attendees — participants and spectators — cannot exceed 50% of the occupancy load of the venue or 50 persons, whichever is smaller.

Indoor recreational sports and classes will require 10 feet of distance between all participants at all times, with all shared items being disinfected between uses. The total number of participants, spectators, coaches, referees and associated persons will be limited to 30% of the occupancy load where the sport is being held or 50 persons, whichever is smaller.

Spectators will be limited to parents or guardians who are supervising children. Spectators must wear face coverings consistent with any active executive orders, and distancing of 10 feet between spectators is recommended.

Phase three would allow all grade levels to return to in-person classes, but under 6-foot distancing in classes and spacing of one person every other row in school buses. Faculty and staff would have to wear face coverings, but students would only be encouraged to wear masks as developmentally appropriate.

Phase three would also restrict mixing groups of students and would involve staggered class scheduling as well as staggered use of cafeterias and other communal spaces in schools. If unable to stagger their use, schools would have to close those spaces. Lane said that could mean serving students their meals in classrooms instead of cafeterias.

Large gatherings of students would be limited to whatever executive order is in effect at a particular time. Under executive order 65, that limit is now 50 people.

In all phases, options for remote learning and teleworking for high-risk students and staff must be made available.

Daily health screenings would become a part of reopenings in all phases. All public school divisions and private schools will have to submit reopening plans to the state Department of Education before reopening in each phase.

Beyond phase three, Lane said, students and school employees would be seeing a new normal with health and safety practices and social distancing in schools.

“The main message is they’ll be back in the fall,” Northam said.

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