Northam: New guidelines coming to allow Virginia schools to reopen

(The Center Square) – The Virginia Department of Education is working on new state guidelines for reopening schools to in-person classes, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday.

Although the governor said schools are not ready to fully reopen, and it will not be as soon as next week, he said the state will be starting the process. Northam said a faster COVID-19 vaccine rollout is important for reopening schools, but it might not be necessary to get the entire state vaccinated before they can reopen.

“Instead of schools should be closed, we’re going to approach it from the starting point of schools need to be open and here are the ways to do that safely,” Northam said. “The guidance will light a pathway, including how to use mitigation measures in school buildings and how to prioritize students.”

The governor said individual school divisions will make decisions on what is best for them while working with local health departments. He said the guidelines will address needs for students with disabilities and those who are learning English as a second language.

Some health departments have begun providing COVID-19 vaccine doses to the 1B priority group, which includes teachers.

Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly have criticized Northam’s approach to vaccinating and education. They have said vaccine doses should be rolling out more quickly, and they have been urging the governor to reopen schools for months.

Republicans said they will push for legislation to provide financial aid to parents who have opted to enroll their children in alternative educational options because of the lack of in-person public options.

The social distancing and capacity restrictions in the governor’s previous guidelines have prevented schools from reopening five days per week, leading some to provide entirely online education and others to provide a hybrid of online and in-person schooling.

Despite the criticism, Northam said Virginia has been faster than most states in vaccinating residents. He said only nine states have administered more doses, all of which are larger than Virginia. His goal is to increase the daily vaccination rate to 25,000. On Monday, more than 15,000 people were vaccinated, and on Tuesday, more than 17,000.

“Everyone needs to be patient, Northam said. “It’s going to happen as fast as it can be done, and we’re moving faster every day.”

By TYLER ARNOLD, Center Square