Virginia’s Phase Guidance for Reopening Prek-12 Schools
July 6, 2020
Dear Superintendents and Local School Leaders,
We know this continues to be an immensely difficult time for you and your communities as you take on the significant challenge of preparing for the 2020-2021 school year in the face of the persistent public health threat of COVID-19. Our current public education system is one predicated on rich and fulfilling in-person experiences that support the academic, social emotional, artistic, mental, and athletic growth and development of young people from preschool through adulthood. Schooling is uniquely challenged by a pandemic of this nature, the best mitigation strategies for which necessitate physical distancing, hygiene/cleaning, and health monitoring, potentially until vaccination is available.
The role of children in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, remains somewhat unclear and we are learning more every day. Researchers agree that children are not contracting the new coronavirus at the same rate as adults. However, data has yet to show whether young children transmit the new coronavirus at a similar rate as adults.
Virginia was one of the first states to close schools statewide. Combined with the other community mitigation strategies in Virginia (e.g. stay at home order, gathering limitations, and face coverings in public places), school closures likely helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our communities over the last few months. We have watched cases and hospitalizations rise around the country in recent weeks, and we are reminded of the importance of continuing to follow public health mitigation strategies in the Commonwealth in order to keep our transmission rates low to help protect Virginians. As Virginia enters Phase 3 of Forward Virginia and we prepare for the start of the school year, it remains clear that schools, working together with local health departments, have an important role in slowing the spread of diseases and protecting vulnerable students and staff.
We simultaneously recognize that school closures have a dramatic impact on student learning, the ability of parents to return to work, and the social emotional wellbeing of teachers, students, and parents alike. We share your urgent desire to get students back to the classroom as soon and as safely as possible.
Our most pressing priority is ensuring that students and staff have as safe and healthy learning environments as possible to return to this fall. The Phase Guidance for Virginia Schools-This is a PDF document. has been updated to reflect the latest science, and the best public health guidance and recommendations available intended to reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in school settings. There is a lot of information and misinformation circulating about the transmission of COVID-19, and we are committed to continuing to provide up to date information based on the latest research.
Measures such as physical distancing, hand washing, screening for symptoms, and the appropriate use of face coverings can help reduce the risk of disease transmission and are most effective when used consistently and in combination. Until there is a vaccine, these preventive actions are important even when transmission rates in a community are low. Employing these strategies, particularly when high compliance with recommendations is achieved, can help protect students and staff and may help avoid frequent, and potentially more disruptive, school dismissals and closures. As trusted partners in communities, schools are a vital partner in communicating the importance of these prevention strategies to students, families, faculty and staff.
We recognize you now face the difficult task of considering that guidance in the context of your local school community and making decisions that also account for your unique facility, transportation, and technology assets and limitations, and address the needs of your diverse staff and student populations. This process leaves the final decisions about reopening squarely in the hands of local school boards. Local public health conditions, community concerns, and practical facility constraints have to be taken into account in these school reopening decisions, and we believe our local leaders are best positioned to do that thoughtfully. Our agencies stand ready to assist, provide resources and answer questions as you and your teams work through these decisions under evolving public health circumstances.
The ramifications of the school closures and partial in-person openings will likely reverberate through our families and communities for years to come. We ask that as school leaders, you also remain intentional about building resilience and addressing inequity as we recover, redesign and restart our education systems. We are immensely grateful for each of you as a local educational leader, and the tremendous dedication you and your teams have demonstrated in the face of great challenges. Thank you for your leadership and your commitment to creating safe, healthy learning environments for your students and staff under these extraordinary circumstances.
M. Norman Oliver MD, MA
State Health Commissioner
James F. Lane, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Public Instruction