The House Education Committee voted Monday to approve changes to Senator Siobhan Dunnavant’s (R-Henrico) bill to require schools to provide in-person learning. After passing the Senate with bipartisan support, the House of Delegates Education Committee proposed a substitute that Republicans said would have effectively left the status quo intact. However, Dunnavant worked with the committee to create a new substitute including specific definitions for the in-person requirement, creating a compromise bill that received bipartisan support in the committee. The bill would be effective for the 2021-2022 school year — efforts to give the bill emergency status were shot down.
“The substitute differs from what you saw last week in a few ways. First of all, it defines in-person instruct with a reliable definition, and it defines what is not instruction. For instance, virtual education in a classroom with the proctor would not be in person education,” Dunnavant said in committee.
She said, “It requires strict adherence to the Virginia Department of Health determination of level of school impact, and that is different than looking at community spread and testing numbers, which are relevant peripheral decision makers, but it has been advised that the best decision maker for closing schools is what’s actually happening in the school.”
As passed by the committee, SB 1303 requires districts to provide in-person instruction for the required amount of educational hours set by the state. The bill does provide for schools to work with the VDH to manage future quarantine and closure, and requires that closures or quarantine be limited to the smallest population and shortest time possible. Additionally, the primary metrics for making those determinations will be based on VDH guidelines focused on transmission rates within specific buildings, not on community spread.
The modified bill now goes before the full House of Delegates for approval before being sent back to the Senate for approval. In addition to bipartisan support in committee, the bill received support from Virginia Education Association President James Fedderman, who opposed Governor Ralph Northam’s call to begin introducing in-person learning options in March.
In the committee, Fedderman said, “We are on the right path to reopening schools for in-person instruction. Still, we need to be driven by the health and safety of, first and foremost, the students we teach and to ensure proper mitigation measures for our educators,” he said. “We believe this substitute addresses our school communities’ need to pay special attention to address this pandemic’s mitigation in our schools. Our students and educators desperately need our support across every Virginia community and at the Statehouse as well.”
Last week, Dunnavant told The Star that she was working closely with Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) to craft the modified bill. On Monday, VanValkenburg told the committee, “Since last Monday, I think we’ve talked every day in the last week, and we have made a lot of movement with the goal to being getting something that we can pass out of both Houses.”
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