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Northam forms education work group

Stakeholders to recommend ways to ensure safe reopening of schools

RICHMOND

Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Monday a diverse set of education stakeholders participating in the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Education Work Group to help chart a path forward for determining how schools can safely reopen later this year.

The group is comprised of representatives from Virginia’s public and private early childhood, K-12, and higher education systems, and includes teachers, superintendents, parents, college presidents, state agency personnel, special education advocates, museum directors, and student perspectives. This wide variety of education stakeholders represent the whole of Virginia’s education system and come from every region of the Commonwealth.

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni formed the work group and chaired its first meeting on April 23. Since then, the work group has been focused on developing recommendations to align policies throughout the Commonwealth’s preK-20 education system and ensure continuity of learning.

“I am deeply grateful for Virginia’s educators, administrators, school nutrition workers, support staff, parents, and students for the ways they have adapted to new learning environments over the past two months,” said Northam. “As we make decisions about the path forward, this panel will help ensure that we are best supporting rural students, English language learners, students of color, and students with special needs. School closures have been necessary to protect health and safety, but lost class time has a disproportionate impact on Virginia’s most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged students. That’s why equity will remain at the forefront as we determine when and how we can safely and responsibly return to in-person learning.”

The work group is chaired by Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, and is staffed by Deputy Secretary Education Fran Bradford, State Council of Higher Education Director Peter Blake, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. These four individuals comprise the steering committee for the COVID-19 Education Work Group.

“As we begin to think about how Virginia’s education system can operate in the summer and fall, it is crucial that we have the advice of a diverse, thoughtful group of education leaders,” Qarni. “This group will use their expertise to guide our approach and help ensure that all voices are heard and all recommendations are made through the lens of equity.”

On March 13, Northam directed all K-12 schools in Virginia to close for a minimum of two weeks in response to the spread of COVID-19. On March 23, Governor Northam was one of the first governors in the country to issue a statewide order closing schools for the remainder of the academic year. The Virginia Department of Education established the Continuity for Learning (C4L) Task Force consisting of more than 120 teachers, leaders, and collaborating educational partners across Virginia to help school divisions to develop and implement continuous learning plans in partnership with local county health departments, families, staff, and local boards of education.

Virginia’s COVID-19 Education Work Group will develop recommendations on key issues schools must address before reopening and help determine how to ensure continuity of learning for Virginia students from cradle to classroom to career. After this guidance is developed, the work group will transition to focus on long-term recovery plans to include addressing learning gaps and social emotional needs of students resulting from school closures.

In the coming weeks, Governor Northam will outline a roadmap for Virginia schools, colleges, and universities to return to in-person learning in a safe, equitable, and responsible manner. The data-driven and science-based approach will include recommendations from the COVID-19 Education Work Group, and will be coordinated with the Forward Virginia plan to gradually ease public health restrictions. The Forward Virginia plan is grounded in federal CDC guidelines, and includes specific goals to contain the spread of the virus through increased testing, contact tracing, and ensuring adequate medical capacity.