Gov. Northam Sets Date for All Virginia Schools to Offer In-Person Learning Options

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Gov. Ralph Northam speaks during a December 2020 press briefing.

By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam announced today a new goal for all Virginia public schools to make options available for in-person learning by March 15.

“In the past 11 months, our children … have been champions. They have made sacrifices. They’ve endured a lot of change and uncertainty, and so have their families and teachers and school staff,” he said.

The governor, who is a pediatric neurologist, said his colleagues have reported writing more prescriptions for anti-depressants and stimulants as children have developed more emotional and behavioral issues during the COVID-19 pandemic that also has contributed to a decline in academic performance.

“Children learn better in classrooms,” Northam said.

The governor later clarified that the March 15 deadline was not a “mandate” but “direction” for Virginia school divisions as they continue to navigate their way through the COVID-19 pandemic and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He referred school divisions to the Virginia Department of Education document, “Interim Guidance to K-12 School Reopening,” which was published in January.

The guidance outlines how to reopen schools safely and prioritize student groups who need in-person learning the most (such as students with disabilities and English learners).

Reopening schools is “critical to prevent greater learning loss and to support our children’s health and well-being,” Northam said.

Accomack and Northampton County Public Schools are ahead of the curve, since they have offered options for in-person learning from the beginning of the current school year – namely, their hybrid learning programs that allow students to attend class in-person two days a week and virtually two days a week.

Both school divisions briefly suspended in-person learning in January after a post-winter-break spike in COVID-19 cases, but Accomack schools reopened their doors Jan. 28, with Northampton schools following one week later, Feb. 1.

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane announced that the Virginia Department of Education will be issuing flexible guidelines for offering in-person learning options from a newly forming educational remediation and recovery group called Virginia Learns.

Northam also encouraged Virginia school divisions to plan summer school programs that will help students who have fallen behind in school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

January was a “hard month” with record numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, but those numbers are now trending down, Northam said.

Caution is still necessary, as mutations of the coronavirus have been detected in Virginia, including four cases of a COVID-19 variant from the U.K. and one case of a COVID-19 variant from South Africa, which appear to be more contagious than the original COVID-19 variant.

Virginia has received more than 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, or enough to give more than 700,000 people the two doses each person needs for the vaccine to be effective.

Of the more than 1.4 million doses received, nearly 87% of first doses have been administered, and 30% of second doses have been administered.

Nearly 964,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Virginia, with more than 800,000 persons receiving at least one dose and nearly 158,000 persons being fully vaccinated.

Virginia ranks nine out of 50 states (one is best and 50 is worst) for the percentage of its population – 9% – that has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Virginia ranks 12 out of 50 states for the percentage of COVID-19 vaccines received that have been administered – 67%.

Virginia expects to hit the 1 million mark for COVID-19 vaccines administered over the weekend.

That is about double the number of cases of COVID-19 identified in Virginia since March 7.

But “we still have a long way to go,” the governor said.