Education

Governor Announces New Service to Assist Virginia Students Applying for Financial Aid

Sets goal for every eligible student to complete FAFSA application

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the launch of a new free advising service to assist Virginia students and families applying for financial aid and help address the COVID-19 related decline in completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Governor Northam also set forth a long-term goal for every eligible student in Virginia to complete a FAFSA application each year. 

The Virginia College Access Network (VirginiaCAN) and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) have partnered on a statewide effort to offer free, one-on-one FAFSA completion assistance. From March 22 through June 30, 2021, students and families can go to virginiacan.org/fafsa to schedule a virtual meeting and connect with an advisor who can answer questions and walk them through filling out the FAFSA application. 

“The FAFSA is the first step in helping Virginia students qualify for thousands of dollars in state and federal grants and scholarships,” said Governor Northam. “Completing the FAFSA can be difficult under normal circumstances, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and shift to remote learning have added to the challenge of assisting our high school seniors with filling out their forms. This free one-on-one advising service will support our goal of ensuring every eligible student in our Commonwealth completes an application, and open the doors to affordable higher education and technical training for even more Virginians.” 

So far in 2021, 4,315 fewer Virginia high school seniors have completed the FAFSA, which is down nearly 10 percent compared to last year and mirrors the nine percent decline in FAFSA completion rates nationally. For students attending Virginia high schools with high concentrations of low-income students, FAFSA completions are down 33 percent. This means students who have the most to gain from state and federal aid are missing out on thousands of dollars in financial assistance for college and postsecondary training. According to a 2018 study, approximately 15,000 Virginia high school seniors that would have been eligible for Pell grants did not complete the FAFSA, amounting to more than $58 million in federal aid that students left on the table. 

The FAFSA is also vitally important for Governor Northam’s new “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) initiative, which provides financial support to cover tuition, fees, and books to eligible Virginia students who complete a FAFSA. The G3 Program aims to make community college more affordable for low- to middle-income individuals seeking employment in high-demand sectors such as technology, skilled trades, health care, early childhood education, and public safety.

“The launch of this new advising tool comes at a critical time when we must double down on our efforts to support the future success of our students and our Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “While we have a lot of ground to make up this year, we are committed to helping every Virginia student get the federal student aid they are entitled to, and that starts with connecting them with the resources they need to complete the FAFSA.”

To meet the Governor’s goal of ensuring that every eligible Virginia student completes the FAFSA, he has directed Secretary Qarni to convene a work group tasked with forming long-term legislative and budgetary recommendations to improve Virginia’s FAFSA completion rates. This group will include representatives from SCHEV, Virginia Community College System, and the Virginia Department of Education, along with other key stakeholders and college access experts. The work group will conduct listening sessions with community groups to collect input which will inform their final recommendations to the Governor.

“Right now, Black, African American, Hispanic, and low-income students are less likely to enroll in college than the state average,” said SCHEV Director Peter Blake. “The Virginia Plan for Higher Education calls for closing gaps in college access and improving FAFSA completion is the first step in closing those gaps.” 

VirginiaCAN, a non-profit organization with a mission to support and enhance post-high school education access and attainment for Virginians, is the lead organization in the new one-on-one FAFSA advising service. The five college access organizations participating in this effort include the Access College Foundation, ECMC’s The College Place, GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP), the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA), and the Virginia College Advising Corps (VCAC). 

“Most people who begin a FAFSA are stymied by questions on the form,” writes Joy Pugh, VirginiaCAN Board President and Executive Director of the Virginia College Advising Corps, in a new op-ed published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is where Virginia’s access providers can help. In the spirit of collective impact, these organizations have banded together to meet this critical FAFSA completion need for students and families across the Commonwealth.”

Mixed Reaction to Senate Passage of Bill for In-Person Education

By Zachary Klosko, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A bill which would require in-person instruction, along with virtual learning, be made available to Virginia public school students upon request passed the Virginia Senate Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1303, introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, aims to make sure students have the opportunity to attend in-person instruction. The student’s parent or guardian must make the request, according to the bill. The legislation passed the Senate on a 26-13 vote.

The bill does not lay out specific expectations of local school divisions in regard to in-person learning, according to the bill’s text. The original version of the bill required the measure to go into effect once the legislation passed the Virginia General Assembly, but an amended version of the bill removed that requirement. Without that stipulation, the bill will take effect on July 1, according to Dunnavant.

Many Virginia school systems, including Fairfax County, Hanover County and Alexandria City Public Schools, begin summer break in mid-June, according to their academic calendars.

During the bill’s committee hearing, Dunnavant said that it is more dangerous for children to not be in the classroom. 

“We have amazing evidence to show that being in school is safe for both students and teachers,” Dunnavant said. “We have profoundly disturbing evidence that not having in-person school for a body of our students is possibly, irrevocably damaging.”

“I think it is probably the most important thing that we can do this session,” Dunnavant added.

Dunnavant stressed the need for innovation in educating students in grade school similar to how many colleges were able to provide in-person education for students.

“If you look at the interventions and the innovations that they have created to make it safe, and again, without outbreaks, you would be so proud,” Dunnavant said on the Senate floor before the bill passed.

Dunnavant’s comments come after 20 active cases of COVID-19 among students and teachers led Hurt Elementary School in Pittsylvania County to abruptly stop in-person classes last week, according to the Danville Register & Bee

Chesterfield County Public Schools is trying a mixed approach, sending some elementary students to in-person classes while keeping middle and high school students fully online, according to NBC 12. Chesterfield returned to virtual learning after Thanksgiving when COVID-19 cases spiked. Chesterfield County School Board will discuss a broader return to in-person learning on Feb. 9.

The reactions to the bill from senators were mixed. Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, called the bill “a slap in the face” to school board members despite expressing her support for the goal the bill was trying to achieve. Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond, said it is critical that students returned to in-person schooling soon but criticized the bill’s terms for being too vague.

During the committee hearing for the measure, Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said that the people in communities are the ones that should make decisions concerning school operations. 

“It should not, in my opinion, be those of us from all over the state deciding what should happen in someone else’s jurisdiction,” Howell said.

Virginia Education Association President James Fedderman said in an email he strongly opposed the bill. He called the legislation an “unnecessary and ill-advised state mandate.”

The bill now moves to the House of Delegates.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Governor Northam Announces Advisory Committee on Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the leadership and members of a new advisory committee charged with making recommendations on culturally relevant and inclusive education practices in Virginia’s public schools.

The Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices Advisory Committee, which will hold its first meeting today, Wednesday, January 6, was established under House Bill 916, sponsored by Delegate Mark D. Sickles, and Senate Bill 853, sponsored by Senator Jennifer Boysko during the 2020 General Assembly session.

The legislation directed the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to select the committee’s members, and tasked the advisory panel with reporting its recommendations to Governor Northam, the Board of Education, and the Chairs of the House Committee on Education and Senate Committee on Education and Health, by July 1, 2021.

“Inclusive and culturally relevant learning environments are vital to creating equitable pathways to success for all Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “The work of this committee will advance our ongoing efforts to tell the complete and accurate story of Virginia’s complex past, improve our history standards, and give educators opportunities to engage in important conversations and lessons with their students.”

“When we teach an honest narrative of our past, students better understand their place in history and are equipped to work toward a better society,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This committee will build on the work of the Commission on African American History Education to ensure the content taught in Virginia classrooms is accurate and inclusive of perspectives which have been historically marginalized.”

The committee will be led by three co-chairs: Senator Boysko, Arlington County Superintendent and Board of Education Member Francisco Durán, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education Dean Andrew Daire.

Other committee members are as follows:

  • Chief Ken Adams, Virginia Tribal Education Consortium, Chief Emeritus, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe
  • Kathryn Adkins, High School History Teacher, Henry County Public Schools 
  • Elena Baum, Director, Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater
  • Seyoum Berhe, State Refugee Coordinator, Department of Social Services, Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Kristin Bolam, Elementary School Principal, York County Public Schools 
  • Maria Burgos, Supervisor of Global Learning and Culturally Responsive Instruction, Prince William County Public Schools and Member, African American History Education Commission
  • Angela Byrd-Wright, Mathematics Curriculum Leader, Hampton City Public Schools
  • Steven H. Cregger, Elementary School Art Teacher, Washington County Public Schools 
  • Amaarah DeCuir, Professor, American University School of Education
  • Colleen Eddy, History and Social Science Content Coordinator, Fairfax County Public Schools 
  • Veleka S. Gatling, Director of Diversity Initiatives and Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University
  • Rachel Gomez, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education
  • Jennifer Goss, Teacher, Staunton City Public Schools; Teacher Fellow, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Alfred J. Lerner Fellow, Jewish Foundation for the Righteous 
  • Tameshia Grimes, Superintendent, Nottoway County Public Schools and Member, African American Superintendents Advisory Council 
  • Austin Houck, Student, University of Virginia and LGBTQ+ Activist, Homoglobin 
  • Hyun Lee, Member, Virginia Asian Advisory Board and Adjunct Professor, IGlobal University
  • Steve Legawiec, Coordinator of Social Studies, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
  • Divya Lobo, Student, Dominion High School and the Academy for Engineering and Technology
  • Deborah March, Division Administrator, Fairfax County Public Schools 
  • Herbert Monroe, Assistant Superintendent, Caroline County Public Schools 
  • Jared A. Morris, Division Curriculum Innovation Lead, Madison County Public Schools 
  • Jessica Morris, Director of Special Education, Giles County Public Schools 
  • Monica Motley, Member, Virginia African American Advisory Board
  • Kirk Moyers, Social Studies Coordinator, Harrisonburg City Public Schools and Co-Chair, Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium
  • Brenda Muse, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Franklin County Public Schools 
  • Ilham Nasser, Senior Researcher and Director, International Institute of Islamic Thought
  • Megan de Nobriga, Director of Special Education, Bristol Virginia Public Schools
  • Carla Okouchi, Education Subcommittee Chair, Virginia Asian Advisory Board
  • Monica Robinson, K-12 Academic Support Programs Coordinator, Virginia Beach City Public Schools
  • Lyons Sanchezconcha, Spanish Teacher, Richmond Public Schools and Member, Virginia Latino Advisory Board
  • Jennifer Santiago, Director of Equity and Excellence, Falls Church City Public Schools 
  • Patty Smith, English Teacher, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology
  • Monica Starkweather, ESL Teacher, New Kent County Public Schools and Member, Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • Ghassan Tarazi, Independent Consultant; Member, Virginia Coalition for Human Rights; and Retired, Fairfax County Public Schools
  • The Honorable Schuyler VanValkenburg, House of Delegates and High School History Teacher, Henrico County Public Schools 
  • Emma Violand-Sanchez, Retired Administrator, Arlington County Public Schools 
  • Carolyn Waters, ESL Teacher, Chesterfield County Public Schools 
  • Thelma Williams-Tunstall, Retired Content Specialist, Richmond Public Schools

Specifically, the Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Practices Committee will develop:

  • Recommendations to VDOE for consideration by the Board of Education during the 2021-2022 review of the History and Social Science Standards of Learning;
  • Recommendations for the development of Board of Education guidelines for local school division staff, including teachers and school counselors, on age-appropriate anti-bias education for students; and
  • Recommendations on professional development for school personnel related to culturally relevant and inclusive education practices, including, but not be limited to, considerations for:
    • Policies and regulations governing teacher preparation programs; and
    • Policies and regulations governing teacher licensure and professional development requirements for licensure renewal.

“The instructional, policy and equity staff of the department and I look forward to supporting the committee during the next six months,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “I am grateful to all of the educators and community leaders who graciously agreed to make this substantial commitment of their time and expertise to helping the commonwealth develop standards, practices, policies, and school cultures that support all learners.” 

The committee’s first meeting will take place virtually on Wednesday, January 6 and will be livestreamed on the VDOE You Tube channel, beginning at 2 p.m.

The agenda includes an opportunity for public comment. Members of the public who wish to comment must register in advance online. Speakers will be limited to two minutes each to ensure adequate time for all registered speakers to provide public comment.

Additional information about the committee and meeting materials can be found on the Virginia is for Learners website.

Rep. McEachin Hosting Virtual Education Listening Session with Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni

 

RICHMOND, VA – On Wednesday, October 21 at 6:30PM, Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) will host a Virtual Education Listening Session on Zoom. Congressman McEachin and Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni will hear from parents and teachers from Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District about their experiences with virtual education this school year.

“I have heard from parents and teachers across my district about both the difficulties and unexpected advantages they are experiencing with virtual learning this school year,” said Congressman McEachin. “I am eager to hear more from educators and parents about their needs and to find additional opportunities for me to help at the federal level.”

     Who: Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04)
                 Secretary Atif Qarni, Virginia Secretary of Education
                 Parents and Teachers from VA04

      What: Virtual Education Listening Session

      When: Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 6:30PM

      Where: Zoom, Register at: https://bit.ly/VA04VELS

Rep. McEachin Calls for Parent and Teacher Feedback on Virtual Learning

RICHMOND, V.A. – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) today announced an online form which parents and teachers can use to submit feedback and share their virtual learning experiences with him. Most school systems in Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District are wrapping up their first month of virtual learning next week and while some will continue virtually, others may return to in-person learning.

“I know there have been challenges adapting to online learning this school year, and I want to hear from parents and teachers about what is going well and what could be improved,” said Congressman McEachin. “If there is an opportunity for me to help at the federal level, I want to make sure I know about it, whether that is through additional relief funding for school systems, legislation to expand access to child care, or grants for technology and broadband expansion. We must keep our students and educators safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that we are providing the best learning environment possible during this challenging time.”

Parents and teachers can submit their feedback online at https://bit.ly/VA04OnlineEd

School districts within Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District include: Charles City County, Chesapeake, Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie, Emporia, Greensville, Henrico, Hopewell, Petersburg, Prince George, Richmond, Southampton, Suffolk, Surry and Sussex.

Governor Northam Provides Guidance for Reopening Higher Education Institutions

Virginia’s public and private degree-granting institutions to develop plans to bring students back to campus, resume in-person instruction

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued guidance for Virginia public and private higher education institutions as they develop plans to safely reopen their campuses and resume in-person instruction. This guidance document was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Health, and was informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Governor is directing all of Virginia’s colleges and universities to create detailed reopening plans that demonstrate compliance with this new guidance.

“Virginia has one of the best and most diverse systems of higher education in the nation and each institution will take on this challenge in a way that meets their unique mission, location, circumstances, and student bodies,” said Governor Northam. “A safe, responsible reopening of Virginia’s college and university campuses is critical, especially for students who depend on our campus communities to provide valuable resources that they do not have access to at home.”

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni held 35 strategy sessions with diverse groups of education stakeholders between May 29 and June 8 to gather their recommendations on how different reopening scenarios would impact their respective roles. Secretary Qarni, Deputy Secretary Fran Bradford, and staff from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) engaged 800 individuals in these conversations, and heard a wide range of perspectives including parents, students, faculty, student affairs specialists, college access program staff, and more.

“At their best, Virginia higher education institutions are engines of economic and social mobility for the students they serve and the communities they are embedded in,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “Virginia’s colleges and universities create space for dialogue about hard issues and promote new ideas that are critical to moving the Commonwealth forward. For all of this to be possible, students, faculty, staff, and families alike need to know that our institutions are prioritizing the health and safety of campus communities. Transparency and accountability is critical in this process.”

Virginia’s higher education reopening guidance is among the first in the nation, and is one of the most comprehensive accounts of criteria that should be considered when reopening a college or university campus. The document requires institutions to meet certain public health conditions in order to reopen their campuses, and to develop plans to address the following considerations:

  • Repopulation of the campus
  • Monitoring health conditions to detect infection
  • Containment to prevent spread of the disease when detected
  • Shutdown considerations if necessitated by severe conditions and/or public health guidance
     

For more information, read the guidance document available here. This document is also available in SpanishChineseKoreanVietnameseArabic, and Tagalog.

“With this robust guidance document, Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities can begin the hard work necessary to reopen their campuses,” said Peter Blake, Director of SCHEV. “While life at our colleges and universities will change, the energy, creativity and commitment shown by faculty and staff ensures that the learning experience will not be sacrificed. SCHEV stands ready to support institutions in developing strategies to serve students more effectively, without sacrificing the highest public health standards.”

Institutions must submit comprehensive reopening plans SCHEV, who will review their plans for compliance to relevant guidelines. Plans may need to be updated as guidance evolves, especially in the areas of testing, contact tracing, and symptom tracking. Institutions are encouraged to post their reopening plans publicly.

Governor Northam Announces $66.8 Million in Emergency Education Relief Funding

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia schools will receive $66.8 million through the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to expand distance learning opportunities, fund services for students disproportionately impacted by loss of class time, and provide financial assistance to higher education students and institutions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This funding will help Virginia provide high-quality instruction and continue the delivery of services for K-12 and higher education students during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “We are prioritizing this federal assistance to help address learning gaps caused by school closures, expand and improve internet connectivity, increase access to robust distance learning programs, and help students in need of additional financial assistance complete their postsecondary education and training.”

The GEER Fund, which was authorized under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, gives states the flexibility determine how best to allocate the emergency assistance to meet their educational needs.

Governor Northam is distributing $43.4 in GEER funding for the following PreK-12 priorities:

  • $26.9 million to support short-term and long-term initiatives expanding high-speed internet access to all communities in the Commonwealth, including providing laptop computers and Mi-Fi devices for students without home internet access;
  • $10 million to expand early childhood education and child care programs in the Commonwealth, especially for children with academic and social-emotional needs;
  • $3.5 million to support the expansion of the Virtual Virginia online learning program to provide content for elementary and middle school students; allow teachers in all school divisions to use the platform to create, edit, and share content as well as provide personalized virtual instruction for all students; and expand the Virtual Virginia Professional Learning Network, in partnership with the Virginia Society for Technology, to ensure that educators and technology-support personnel have the capacity and skills to meet the demand for quality online learning; and
  • $3 million to cover unfunded costs for the continuation of school-based meals programs while schools remain closed, including hazard pay for school nutrition staff.
     

“These initiatives will support efforts of PreK-12 schools to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable students and increase the capacity of local divisions to continue instruction and critical support services during future emergencies,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “We will also allocate flexible funding to our institutions of higher education that will allow colleges and universities to address the unique needs of their students. We trust they will maintain a focus on equity by distributing funds and services to students who are facing monumental challenges due to the pandemic.”

Approximately $23.4 million—one third of GEER funds—will be distributed throughout Virginia’s higher education system, with $18.3 million allocated to public and private four-year institutions and Richard Bland College. Of this funding, $14.5 million will be allocated to four-year public institutions and Richard Bland College, and $3.8 million will be allocated to private, four-year Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) eligible institutions. All of these institutions will use the one-time funding to address immediate student financial needs, cover health and safety costs associated with COVID-19, and support activities that make online learning more accessible and equitable.

GEER funds totaling $4.9 million will be distributed to the Virginia Community College System to support the following initiatives:

  • One-time funding to address immediate student financial needs;
  • Last-dollar scholarships for displaced adults who enroll in stackable credential programs leading to jobs in targeted industry sectors; and
  • Initiatives to extend internet access into parking lots on or adjacent to the 40 campuses to provide help connect students who do not have internet subscriptions at home.
     

The Governor will also distribute $175,000 of GEER funds among Virginia’s five higher education centers, which provide access to college degrees and job training for in-demand careers located in parts of the Commonwealth with fewer college and university resources. 

GEER funding has been made available in addition to $587.5 million allocated to the Commonwealth in May under the federal CARES Act. This included $238.6 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund for K-12 activities. Additionally, the CARES Act provided $343.9 million for higher education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

In addition to allocating funding directly to every local school division, the ESSER K-12 funding includes a $23.9 million state set aside to fund state-level initiatives. In Virginia, these funds will be used to meet the needs of schools in regard to special education, instruction and assessment, student social and emotional health, and COVID-19-related health and safety in school buildings and facilities.

More information on the ESSER state set aside funds will be made available through the Virginia Department of Education in the coming weeks. 

Governor Northam Shares Guidance for Phased Reopening of PreK-12 Schools

Back to school plan informed by collaborative process, outlines steps for safely resuming in-person instruction and school activities

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a phased approach that allows Virginia schools to slowly resume in-person classes for summer school and the coming academic year. The K-12 phased reopening plan was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia Department of Education and is informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

All PreK-12 schools in Virginia will be required to deliver new instruction to students for the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of the operational status of school buildings. The PreK-12 guidance is aligned with the phases outlined in the Forward Virginia blueprint and provides opportunities for school divisions to begin offering in-person instruction to specific student groups.

“Closing our schools was a necessary step to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of staff, students, and our communities,” said Governor Northam. “Our schools have risen to the occasion and found ways to provide remote learning opportunities, keep students engaged, continue serving meals for children who otherwise would have gone hungry, and support students and families through an immensely challenging time. Resuming in-person instruction is a high priority, but we must do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner that minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus and meets the needs of the Virginia students who have been disproportionately impacted by lost classroom time.”

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) convened numerous and diverse stakeholders through the Return to School Recovery Task Force, the Accreditation Task Force, and the Continuity for Learning Task Force this spring to inform strategies for reopening. Secretary of Education Atif Qarni held 35 strategy sessions with diverse groups of education stakeholders between May 29 and June 8 to gather their recommendations on how different reopening scenarios would impact their respective roles. The Secretary and his team engaged 800 individuals in these conversations, and heard from a wide range of perspectives including English language learners, parents of students with special needs, career and technical education centers, early childhood educators, students, school nutrition workers, private school leaders, bus drivers, school psychologists, the Virginia High School League, counselors, nurses, and more.

“These plans are informed by a range of perspectives and will help ensure that we prioritize the social emotional well-being of all of our students, their families, and educators as we go back to school this summer and fall,”  said Secretary Qarni.  “In-person learning is most essential for special education students, English language learners, young children, and other vulnerable students who depend upon the structure, in-person connection, and resources our school communities provide.”

Local school divisions will have discretion on how to operationalize within each phase and may choose to offer more limited in-person options than the phase permits, if local public health conditions necessitate. Entry into each phase is dependent on public health gating criteria, corresponding with the Forward Virginia plan. School divisions will have flexibility to implement plans based on the needs of their localities, within the parameters of the Commonwealth’s guidance.

The opportunities for in-person instruction in each phase are as follows:

  • Phase One: special education programs and child care for working families
  • Phase Two: Phase One plus preschool through third grade students, English learners, and summer camps in school buildings
  • Phase Three: all students may receive in-person instruction as can be accommodated with strict social distancing measures in place, which may require alternative schedules that blend in-person and remote learning for students
  • Beyond Phase Three: divisions will resume “new-normal” operations under future guidance

     

Beginning with Phase Two, local divisions and private schools must submit plans to the Virginia Department of Education that include policies and procedures for implementing Virginia Department of Health and CDC mitigation strategies. State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA has issued an Order of Public Health Emergency that requires all Virginia PreK-12 public and private schools to develop plans that demonstrate adherence to public health guidance. Public schools must also outline plans to offer new instruction to all students regardless of operational status.

Detailed information on each phase can be found in the guidance document available here.

VDOE has also developed comprehensive guidance to aid schools in planning for a return to in-person instruction and activities. “Recover, Redesign, Restart” can be found here.

“School will be open for all students next year, but instruction will look different,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “The phased, hybrid approach allows PreK-12 students to have valuable class time and face-to-face interaction with their peers, while prioritizing health and safety by ensuring physical distancing measures are maintained. This plan keeps equity at the forefront by giving divisions the opportunity to deliver in-person instruction to those who need it the most.”

In every phase, PreK-12 schools must follow CDC Guidance for Schools, including social and physical distancing, enhanced health and hygiene procedures, cleaning and disinfecting measures, and other mitigation strategies. These precautions include, but are not limited to:

  • Daily health screenings of students and staff
  • Providing remote learning exceptions and teleworking for students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness
  • The use of cloth face coverings by staff when at least six feet physical distancing cannot be maintained
  • Encouraging the use of face coverings in students, as developmentally appropriate, in settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained
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