Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce a plan to extend school into this summer at a media conference, Friday, Feb. 5 at 11 a.m.
The move is to help students catch up since many had been virtual learning or in hybrid classroom and partial virtual learning all school year.
“We want to extend our classrooms this summer, to allow our children to catch up, so that everybody will be ready in the fall,” Northam told The Washington Post in a live interview, Thursday morning.
Thus far, Northam has not released many details of his plan or to what extent it would be optional or mandatory. But it is clear he values the in-person education.
“Our kids need to be back in school; our parents need a break, too,” Northam said. “We’ve asked a lot for the past year from our children and our families, and now it’s time for us to help them- to give them some extra time this summer to get them prepared will be in everybody’s best interests.”
Northam has floated the idea of year-round learning in Virginia in the past. Last spring he said an extended school year might be needed to help students regain lost learning time due to the pandemic.
At last night’s school board meeting Superintendent Walts said he is setting aside funds for an expanded summer school program, particularly to make the option free for lower income students needed the extra class time. He did not say that summer school would be mandatory.
The Return to In-person Learning
Northam recently supported students returning in-person learning during the current school year.
Tuesday, the Virginia Senate passed SB 1303 what would require every school division to make virtual and in person learning an option for students. Many students have been learning virtually since March of 2020. The bill would have to pass the Virginia House of Delegates.
However, the move opposes CDC recommendations of putting grades 4-12 back in school while community metrics are rates as “high.” The recommendation said schools should rather focus on the most vulnerable learners including special education students and ELL students.
Prince William County, which has "high" number of COVID cases, is currently serving grades PreK-3 within its public school buildings as well as some special education and ELL students.
According to Google New, Prince William County has had 35,693 cases of COVID-19 and 317 deaths from the virus since the beginning of 2020.
The school board will decide on Feb. 17*whether to affirm its decision to bring in more grades in March. The plan is to provide all students with the option of in-school hybrid learning. Families will still have the option to continue virtually.
The board’s plan is more accelerated than Superintendent Steven Walts’ plan that would have students return after spring break in April. Walts said he did not want to disrupt the marking period, and wanted time for all educators to be vaccinated. He also explained that middle school and high school students are much less isolated than elementary grades, thus it becomes much more difficult to prevent outbreaks in the school environment.
Prince William County Schools has been making strides in vaccinating its educators and in-person personnel. The division vaccinated 2,400 staff members this past weekend with their first doses. The school division prioritized highest risk occupations, such as school nurses; then Tier 1 health risk employees; in-person teachers and personnel and those age 65-and-old. The school division is moving forward to vaccinate its employees according to order in which they are expected to return to in-person teaching. The division will then vaccinate substitutes, central office staff and educators working through the Virginia Retirement System.
Vaccinations can be a game changer for returning students to school as staff will be less at risk of contracting the virus. The rates at which the virus is fatal for children is extremely low.
And educators want to be vaccinated before returning to school.
On January 8, Virginia Education Association President James J. Fedderman, “called for public schools that have not already done so to shift to all-virtual instruction until school staff members have been vaccinated.”
However, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that schools can safely reopen without having to vaccinate teachers.
“Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools,” she said at a White House Press Conference.
*This date has been corrected from a previous draft of the article.