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Northam announces phased approach for school reopening

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Posted at 2:54 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 18:39:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. – Governor Ralph Northam unveiled a phased reopening approach for preK-12 schools in Virginia.

“We know parents want to know what to expect this summer and in the fall, to be clear, all Virginia schools will open for students next year, but the school experience will look very different,” said Northam at a Tuesday press conference.

Most instruction in Phase One will be virtual, with the exception of special education and childcare for working families, which can be done in person.

In Phase Two, which most schools can now enter, will allow for certain in-person instruction. Schools may offer in-person instruction for preschool through third graders and English language learners. They can also provide in-person instruction for students with disabilities.

"We wanted to focus on getting education to our earliest learners because of the challenges that they were facing in the remote learning environment while also making sure that we could keep them safe," said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane.

Under Phase Two, school-based summer camps can also operate with some restrictions.

Phase Three will allow in-person for all students, but there will have to be distancing measures like staggered schedules and six feet here will be restrictions on mixing groups of students.

“Schools will have to stagger the use of communal spaces such as cafeterias or close them,” said Northam. “There should be remote learning and telework options for high-risk students and staff. There will be daily health screenings, and wearing a face coverage by staff where physical distancing cannot be maintained between desks and workstations.”

The governor said students won’t be required to wear masks, but he strongly encourages them to wear them, especially older students.

Beyond Phase Three, school divisions will resume “new-normal” operations under future guidance.

“This approach to reopening our schools protects and prioritizes the health and social, emotional, and physical well-being of students and staff, as public health conditions evolve,” said the governor.

"The phases provide maximum flexibility at any given time and apply to both public and private schools," Lane added. "It's important to note that schools may be more limited in their in-person instructional offerings, then the phase allows. So it allows flexibility for school divisions to put in more stringent measures as they need based on the conditions in their community."

Northam said schools must submit their plans to the Virginia Department of Education outlining how they will comply with the guidelines before entering Phase Two or Phase Three.

Tuesday’s news conference was Northam’s first since the majority of the state entered Phase Two of the reopening process. The exceptions are the City of Richmond and northern Virginia, which Northam said could enter Phase Two on Friday, June 12.

Stay with CBS 6 for the latest on this developing story.