Virginia Department of Education Announces Guidelines for Reopening Schools

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The Virginia Department of Education announced a new set of guidelines for school reopening, the result of a workgroup created in February. The guidelines include recommendations for remediating learning loss, note that virtual learning doesn’t work for every students, calls for special attention for vulnerable populations, and say that more staff may be needed to keep student-teacher ratios low.

“This winter, stakeholders representing a variety of perspectives and experiences came together to form the Virginia LEARNS workgroup to map the way forward for the commonwealth’s schools as they continue their journey through these extraordinary times while striving to support the success of every student,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a Tuesday press release.

The guidelines, called Navigating Virginia Education in Uncertain Times, include planning documents, content standards, and checkpoints.

“Students need opportunities to read daily, read texts of their choice, read extended pieces of text and grade level material, and to read fiction and nonfiction texts,” states a K-second grade language arts essentials document.

Mathematics bridging standards link content across grades to help teachers plan instruction. For example, a fifth-grade standard states, “Given a decimal through thousandths, will round to the nearest whole number, tenth, or hundredth.” That standard is linked to a sixth grade concept, “Practical Problems with Fractions and Decimals.”

Multiple checkpoint documents provide questions and action steps to guide educators.

A learning loss checkpoint asks, “How do we ensure a smooth transition from the virtual setting to face to face learning environments?”

In response, the document provides recommendations including holding open houses in advance and developing predictable and positive environments. Other checkpoints focus on curriculum, student and staff well-being, instruction, assessments, technology, and equity.

“Educational equity is rooted in the identification and elimination of any intended or unintended systematic barriers in public education,” the Equity Checkpoint states. “While the impact of extended school closures and the resulting learning loss due to COVID-19 affects all families, the impact on historically and systematically marginalized communities will further increase gaps in access to opportunity and achievement.”

“Those who write the history of these times will document the impact of the pandemic on public education and how school leaders at the local, state and national levels responded to the needs of teachers, students and families,” Charlottesville Superintendent and Virginia LEARNS Chair Rosa Atkins said. “I believe that Navigating Virginia Education in Uncertain Times will serve as an important resource for all of our schools and serve as a model of prudent leadership and effective collaboration in response to unprecedented challenges.”

The guidelines come as schools are reopening, in keeping with Governor Ralph Northam’s mandate to begin providing in-person learning options, and responding to concerns of learning losses accumulated during virtual learning.

Gubernatorial candidate Pete Snyder said in response to the announcement of the guidelines, “Cut the crap and stalling tactics and open the schools. The science has been clear on this since this summer, yet union leaders, bureaucrats and spineless, beholden politicians keep moving the goal posts. It’s time to rescue our children and open our schools now.”

Candidate Glenn Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter said, “Virginia schools should have been opened five-days-a-week a long time ago. Governor Northam has failed our children and parents because he was too afraid to confront the special interest groups blocking the schoolhouse doors.”

Porter added, “When Glenn Youngkin is governor, he will do the right thing for our kids and if the schools remain fully or partially closed he will call up the teacher’s unions and tell them to, ‘Show up for work or you’re fired.'”

Candidate Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said in February, “We need to get students back in the classroom now, and I am glad that the Governor, President Biden, and other Democrats are finally starting to follow the science. That does not, however, excuse them from being held accountable for the damage their failed leadership has done.”

“We need to mobilize past, present and future teachers to help our students get back on track — and I’m willing to jump in and help. As a former educator and coach, I know what a difference individualized attention can make for students who are struggling,” Cox said on Tuesday.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]

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