The Virginia Education Association (VEA) is calling for all public schools in the Commonwealth to switch to virtual instruction for the next month because of the recent rise in COVID-19 numbers throughout the state.
VEA President Dr. James Fedderman issued the statement online Thursday.
“I am calling on Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the superintendents and school boards across this great Commonwealth to immediately order a conversion to all-virtual instruction in public schools until at least mid-January 2021, when the numbers can be re-evaluated,” Fedderman said.
“Those governing our public schools owe it to the students, their families and communities, and our hard-working teachers and support professionals to minimize [COVID] exposures, not compound them,” Fedderman continued.
In his statement, Fedderman did concede that virtual learning is not a true substitute for traditional instruction and that the students’ learning losses will be made up.
The VEA, a nonprofit teachers union that represents more than 40,000 school workers, made its plea on the same day governor Northam imposed new statewide coronavirus restrictions that did not impact schools, meaning the decision to conduct in-person, virtual or hybrid learning is still up to the local divisions.
During his press briefing on the new measures, Northam said “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to different school districts and localities, and that the state will continue to give public schools discretion to choose a desired instructional method.
If the governor were to adhere to the VEA’s request, the decision would impact a total of 2,122 public schools, including the ones already virtual, and 1,252,756 students, according to GreatSchools.org and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).
So far, during the first part of the academic year, most school divisions have chosen to open the classrooms to children in some capacity. According to the VDOE, 98 out of 132 school divisions are either in-person, partially in-person, all hybrid or partially hybrid, while 34 are fully remote.
Of the 98 localities with students in classrooms, only 15 divisions have students in-person for four plus days a week. The majority, 42 districts, fall under the partially in-person category, where some students are at school for most of the week, but all others are remote or hybrid.
In recent weeks, several school districts have decided to adjust plans for the return to in-person learning, especially in the Richmond-metro area. Henrico County Public Schools was supposed to begin sending students back in phases starting November 30, but have now pushed it back to January.
Chesterfield County Public Schools reversed course at the end of November and returned students to remote instruction until the end of January, while the Richmond Public Schools decided on Monday to remain virtual for the rest of the year.
According to previous reporting from The Virginia Star, Virginia Beach and Fairfax County, the state’s largest school system, were cancelling or postponing in-person instruction.
Hanover County, which has had students in classrooms since September 8, could be suspending its face-to-face learning option if COVID cases in the school division continue to rise, Superintendent Michael Gill said Tuesday in a message to families, faculty and staff.
The Virginia Department of Health outbreaks in school settings dashboard currently lists 10 schools, a mix of public and private, with outbreaks that are in progress.
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