Virginia Republicans want students inside classrooms five days a week when schools reopen

Virginia Politics

(WAVY/WRIC) — A group of Republican lawmakers called on Gov. Ralph Northam to withdraw the state’s guidelines for reopening schools on Wednesday, insisting that the governor should prioritize a plan to have full in-person learning five days a week for all Virginia students.

Parents and teachers across the commonwealth are anxiously waiting to see what school will look like for students in the fall.

The Virginia Department of Education has issued new school guidelines for social distancing as schools plan for reopening amid the coronavirus outbreak.

New guidelines leased by the Virginia Department of Education Monday show a more relaxed approach to reopening, while still maintaining proper social distance.

Wednesday afternoon, a group of Virginia Republican legislators held a virtual press conference to discuss the reopening of schools. The group included Del. Kirk Cox, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, Sen. Jill Vogel, Sen. Jen Kiggans and Del. Carrie Coyner.

“I sympathize with the moms and dads out there who are working and trying to find childcare. They’re also helping their kids to stay in school. We shouldn’t be forcing them to choose between their jobs and their children but instead need to be finding policy solutions to help the schools reopen safely,” said Sen. Jen Kiggans.

Officials are now recommending that schools maintain a minimum of 3 feet between people when they enter phase 3 of reopening this fall, however, if the distance could not be met, they are encouraging face coverings to help reduce disease transmission.

Republicans cited guidance recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics advocating “that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

Aligning with the state’s reopening plans, the school reopening guidelines are in phases that will give school divisions flexibility and are recommendations, not mandates.

Del. Carrie Coyner, who’s also a former Chesterfield School Board member, says the group understands the seriousness of COVID-19 — but there’s a lot at stake when it comes to not having children attend school in-person.

“Increased addictions that families are struggling with in our communities that we’re not able to provide services [for] because we’re not able to identify [them]. Increased mental health disorders, food insecurity that’s going unidentified in our community, the widening of educational gaps between low-income and minority students and students with disabilities, increases in child abuse and neglect,” Coyner said of the side-effects of not having school in-person.

When asked about teachers who may feel uncomfortable going back, Del. Kirk Cox says they’re pushing legislation that may help with those concerns.

“One of the things we really emphasize was calling for 14 days of paid COVID leave so they can quarantine or take care of a loved one without losing their job,” Cox said.

“We also called for substantial money as far as school opening goes. While that would obviously be health-related, that would be for testing, etc.,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the governor, Alena Yarmosky, stressed that the state will move forward with caution and claimed that Republicans were “playing politics.”

“This is about public health. While Governor Northam wants nothing more than to have children back in school this fall, recent surges in other states make it clear we need to proceed cautiously,” Yarmosky said. “We must continue to prioritize safety—not just for students and their families, but for teachers, staff, and communities across the Commonwealth.”

“No one—not state legislators, and not the President of the United States—should be playing politics,” she added.

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