‘We want to be there if it’s safe’: Virginia teachers still have questions about the state’s plan to reopen schools

‘We want to be there if it’s safe’: Virginia teachers still have questions about the state’s plan to reopen schools
Gov. Ralph Northam answered questions from reporters about how the state will and won't enforce a requirement that people wear masks indoors. (Source: May 28, 2020 -- Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

As schools in Virginia prepare to reopen, some teachers still have questions on how the state’s new guidelines will be implemented.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that K-12 education will follow a phased reopening similar to the rest of the state, with the hope of slowly reintroducing in-person instruction for all students.

“To be clear, all Virginia schools will be open for students next year, but the school experience will look very different,” he said at a news briefing. The state’s guidance outlines three distinct phases that will match the rest of the community. In other words, if a region is already in Phase Two at the start of the fall session, schools will reopen in Phase Two as well. Each phase gradually eases current requirements for remote learning, with all students back in the classroom by Phase Three — though social distancing requirements will still be in place.

Both Richmond and Northern Virginia, which reopened more slowly than the rest of the state, are permitted to move into Phase Two this Friday. That makes it likely that most school districts will move into their second stage of reopening by the time many summer classes begin in mid- to late-June.

Under the state’s Phase Two guidelines, schools will be permitted to offer in-person instruction to students in preschool through third grade, and summer camp programs for students of all ages. Extracurricular activities will also be allowed “if social distancing mitigation strategies can be implemented,” according to the guidance. Some athletic teams can resume practices and drills as long as contact is limited and distance is maintained.

The state’s Phase Three guidelines for schools allow in-person instruction for all students but also require administrators to implement social distancing measures that adhere to recommendations from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Those include maintaining at least six feet of physical distance between students and staff “to the greatest possible extent” and limiting outdoor activities to 50 people or less.

While Northam described students and faculty as “eager” to return to the classroom, some educators have expressed reservations about resuming in-person courses, especially without clear instructions from administrators on how the state’s guidance, which offers wide flexibility to individual school districts, will be implemented.

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