CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- The Chesterfield County School Board has unanimously decided Tuesday that middle and high school students will return to in-person learning on March 9th.
Under the newly approved plan, all students will be able to be in the classroom five days a week.
Elementary school students returned to in-person learning four days a week in February.
"Families who do not feel comfortable returning their child to an in-person learning environment would be allowed to keep their child in a virtual setting with their currently assigned teachers," the school system advised in a social media post.
Parents will have until February 17 to decide whether their child returns to school or continues with virtual schooling.
Last week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said all schools in the state should make in-person instruction available at least as an option next month, noting the coronavirus pandemic's steep toll on children and families.
Northam said during a news conference that all K-12 school divisions should make the option available by March 15.
He also encouraged schools to offer summer classes for kids who want to take them.
The governor did not say the guidance was mandatory, but his office later said Northam expects all districts in the state to be on board with the March 15 deadline.
“My fellow pediatricians say they’re seeing an increase in behavioral problems, mental health issues and even increases in substance abuse among their young patients,” said Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist and the nation’s only governor who is a doctor.
“They’re writing more prescriptions, such as anti-depressants and stimulants," he continued. “And that’s just not a good direction for us to keep going. And we’re also seeing a decline in academic performance.”
"These will be options we are giving to our schools to do this safely and responsibly,” he said.
Ben Kiser, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said his organization was glad the governor did not issue a mandate. But he emphasized superintendents are generally anxious to get kids back to in-person instruction.
Kiser said he thinks the governor’s guidance will encourage districts that may have been hesitant to move more quickly.
Northam said in-person classes have been shown to be safe when guidelines such as social distancing and mask wearing are followed. And he said that federal COVID relief money as well as state revenue can help schools extend the school year into summer.
Northam wrote in a letter to superintendents that “we are now equipped as a society to safely open schools and operate them in ways that protect students, teachers, and staff members."