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Virginia governor announces state plans for reopening schools in the fall

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For students in Virginia, the end of summer break will mean a return to classes — in-person.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced that all schools will open for students next year, ridding parents and students of the looming uncertainty following closures and a move to remote learning due to Covid-19.

PreK-12 schools in the state were closed in mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Sports and other school events were also canceled. Other states had similar closures.

For the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, Northam said all public schools will be allowed to reopen as long as the state continues to slow the spread of the virus. State officials presented a three-phase approach to reopening schools on Tuesday.

“School will be open for all students next year, but instruction will look different,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane said in a statement. “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.”

Phase 1 of the plan to reopen schools, effectively immediately, has remote learning as still the dominant method of instruction. Only child care for working families may operate in schools.

But in phase 2, which “most schools can enter right now,” according to Northam, schools may offer instruction for preschoolers through third graders, English language learners and students with disabilities. Summer camps in school buildings will also be allowed. However, strict social distancing measures need to be enforced, such as only one child assigned to each seat on a school bus and limiting large gatherings to 50 people.

When playing sports outside, 10 feet of physical distance should be maintained by the students and spectators at all times and shared items, such as balls, must be disinfected between uses.

In phase 3, all students will be allowed to receive in-person instruction, but with strict social distancing measures in place, “which may require alternative schedules that blend in-person and remote learning for students,” according to a news release.

“We expect schools to have six feet between desks and work spaces,” Northam said during the news conference. “There will be daily health screenings and wearing of face coverings by staff where physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

Northam noted, however, that his plan is just guidance and not a mandate. Both public and private schools will have the flexibility to create their own plans based on these guidelines, which must then be submitted for approval by the Virginia Department of Education.

Virginia’s plan to reopen schools matches up with the phases Northam has already put in place to reopen the state’s economy.

Northern Virginia and Richmond had to remain in Phase 1 as the rest of the state entered Phase 2 last week.

But on Tuesday, Northam also announced that those areas will also be allowed to enter Phase 2 starting Friday, effectively opening up restaurants for indoor dining at half capacity and gyms at 30% capacity across the state.

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