Virginia parents support Northam's push for schools to reopen by mid-March, but hesitant about success

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Friday a new plan for the whole state when it comes to schools reopening.

Northam is calling on all schools in the state to offer some form of in-person learning by March 15, in addition to prioritizing summer learning options for families to explore in order to help students make up for lost learning and get ready for the fall school year. 

READ MORE: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announces schools must reopen with some form of in-person learning by March 15

"I know this has been a hard year for everyone, it’s been a school year like no other, it’s been hard on children and it’s been hard on teachers," Northam said. "Our children need to be ready for learning in the fall. I want our schools to do this safely and they need to prioritize students who need this the most."

Some parents in Falls Church told FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan on Friday that opening schools for in-person learning by mid-March and even supporting summer learning is a step in the right direction but they are hesitant in believing that the two scenarios will come into fruition successfully. 

"We’ve been burned a few times now so we will believe it when we see it," said Gregory Kinney. "We are seeing from both sides of the aisle now because I think everyone is getting serious about the need to have kids back in-person, so maybe we are a little bit more optimistic this time but guarded also."

"We’re glad that he (Northam) came around and at this point, we’re happy that he said that but we wish it would have happened a lot sooner," said Michael Chamberlain.

READ MORE: Thousands of Fairfax County teachers to work from home despite district's plan to send students back

In a statement released by the Virginia schools reopening coalitions based in Northern Virginia, we were told:

"On behalf of tens of thousands of parents in Virginia we want to acknowledge and thank Governor Ralph Northam for today calling on the remaining school districts in the Commonwealth to provide access to some form of in-person education by March 15 at the latest.  Though it comes almost one year after the shuttering of in-person education in Virginia, it is a welcome and necessary step to addressing the needs of children in the Commonwealth.

The action today by the Governor is an important addition to the landslide of evidence -- from studies showing the safety of schools to data demonstrating the mental health harms and learning losses accumulating daily in our kids -- that for months has proven that in-person education is best for most of our students. 

The Governor’s statement acknowledges that the associated harms of not attending school in person are far greater than the impacts of COVID-19 on children, and it comes as a welcome ray of hope to parents and children as we approach nearly a year of virtual learning in our area.  We also want to especially acknowledge the efforts of Fairfax Senator Chap Petersen, who has worked tirelessly to arrive at this point to begin to get Virginia’s students back in the classroom.

We are also encouraged by the Governor’s support for providing school districts with resources to pursue immediate efforts to provide for catch-up educational opportunities throughout the summer of 2021.  We look forward to seeing how our local school districts plan for implementation of such a concept -- and we urge that school districts provide these opportunities in person for students who want and need it.  

As parents, we will continue to support our children and will continue to urge policymakers at every level to prioritize them so that all students, of all abilities, in all grades, have the opportunity to learn in the setting known to be most effective:  in a classroom with a teacher, 5 days a week. A return to 5 days a week of in person education this school year is vitally important to helping to rectify the academic, mental, and emotional challenges brought on by the last 11 months.

As ad-hoc advocacy groups, we would like to thank the thousands of parents who have worked endlessly to hold our school districts accountable for following the science on reopening schools, and to push our decision-makers to consider the needs and interests of our children. Without the active involvement and engagement of parents, telling the story of this past year, we would not be at this pivotal point. Our bipartisan efforts are not done."

READ MORE: Virginia students struggling academically amid the pandemic, according to new data

Ayesha also spoke with Aaron Dworkin, the CEO of the National Summer Learning Association.

Dworkin said, while it’s true that kids aren’t going to make up 11 months of lost learning in the summer, maybe schools can combine academic learning with exposure to the outdoors to help students get ready for the fall.

"If we take the time to be intentional and plan, it could be great," said Dworkin. "It doesn’t have to be a last-second thing that we just scramble to put together. We can use it well and also summer is moving from the issue of a nice thing to have especially if you can afford it, to a need to have it, we want to maximize all our time with our children."

Ayesha also checked in with some school districts about their plans for not only re-opening but also about options for offering summer learning.

Spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell with Fairfax County Public Schools said in a statement:

"FCPS has been working hard on the plan to return students to in-person instruction. At the same time, we have been developing supports for students who need additional instruction and engagement this summer to prepare for their next grade level. As we begin to phase in students back to schools on February 16th, we will also be identifying those who will benefit most from summer support. Importantly, we are continuing to implement crucial social-emotional support structures to provide assistance. Many may be feeling disconnected, and it is imperative that we help all of our students and staff re-engage and re-connect as they come together. We have confidence and hope in our FCPS community and that together, we will succeed in meeting the challenges in the remaining months of the 20-21 school year. While there will be associated costs to the extended summer learning, we understand that these resources are essential to accommodate our students and staff during this unique and challenging transition period. In our extensive planning, we have budgeted up to 30 million dollars so far to aid our summer learning programming and we know there will be continued demand. 

We can all agree with Governor Northam as he states "children learn better in the classroom and that’s where they need to be."  It’s been a long road to get here but our FCPS community is resilient, and they’ve proven it time and time again."

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In a statement from Arlington Public Schools we were told:

"APS provides summer school options for students every summer. We have been planning summer school and typically announce registration/course offerings in March.

At last night’s School Board meeting, I (Superintendent Francisco Durán) provided updates on the work that has been underway with principals and staff to prepare for student returns in March, in anticipation of announcing those dates at the next School Board meeting. Given Governor Northam’s press conference this morning, I will announce the dates in my Return-to-School Update this coming Tuesday. Our timeline aligns with the Governor’s guidance."