On Thursday, the Governor announced that schools will no longer operate under the assumption that they should stay closed while the novel coronavirus surges, they will operate under the mandate that "schools need to be open, and here are the ways they can do that safely."
The governor said he’d been inspired while visiting T.C. Williams High School, where seeing teachers receive the coronavirus vaccine gave him a sense of optimism.
While highlighting the positive impact restoring in-person education will have, Northam cautioned that schools must do so safely.
State officials noted that although the vaccine – which is rolling out slowly nationwide – is a significant step, it’s not necessarily a precursor to reopening.
"All of our school divisions need to be making plans about how to reopen schools," the governor said. "It’s not going to happen next week, but I want our schools to come from this starting point: How do we get schools open safely."
The governor believes that schools "are places where we can do all of the mitigation measures" – such as masking wearing, cleaning, and social distancing.
On Thursday afternoon, the Virginia Department of Education released new guidance informed by the CDC outlining how to open schools safely.
The document outlines the guiding principles educators should use, such as support for in-person learning; prioritizing young learners; putting education first; focusing on prevention; considering community needs; and being flexible and innovative.
It also highlights the now-familiar COVID-19 mitigation measures, such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, washing hands, cleaning and disinfecting, and contact tracing.
Finally, it looks at what steps each district needs to take to determine a timeline for reopening, and what it needs to implement to match that timeline.
FOX 5's Ayesha Khan spoke with parents and students to see what they think about what the Governor is suggesting.
"I’m at a point where the pros outweigh the cons and there is risk in everything you do... they could be at home and start a fire and burn the house down or even just walking down the street they could get hit by a car – not every day is given so I might as well maximize it," said Ray Soliz.
"Yeah, I wouldn’t mind it. I mean, there’s always gonna be certain kids that will take it as a joke and like try to do something stupid but I guess it’s going to come with it but I think for the most part everybody will know to do their part and make sure everybody stays safe but still can go to school," said Kaiden Soliz.
FOX 5 also received statements from two teachers' unions in Northern Virginia – the Loudoun Education Association and the Fairfax Education Association.
Loudoun Education Association President Sandy Sullivan shared the following:
"Loudoun Education Association continues to advocate for a safe return to in-person instruction. Educators, students and our community need in-person instruction to occur when it is safe. Returning students and staff to work sites while COVID cases rise puts those students, educators and our community at risk.
Please know, educators want to be back in their worksites supporting students as they know best.
LEA continues to urge Loudoun County Public Schools to use this time in distance learning to ensure plans, protocols and enforcement are fully in place.
Then, WHEN conditions are safe, return students and educators to worksites."
Meanwhile, Kimberly Adams, the president of the Fairfax Education Association, shared the following statement:
"Fairfax Education Association is clear that staff will need two doses before returning staff to in-person instruction. We are just at the beginning of this education vaccination time period. The Governor wants us to open safely and if he is committed to vaccination as he mentioned today, then we wait just over another month before we plan to open schools.
Educators in our DMV area are also hopeful that we can develop a plan that protects workers across this entire metro area."