RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced during his Tuesday afternoon briefing that schools will reopen this year, slowly and in a phased approach.

Virginia reported its lowest daily increase in COVID-19 cases since April 20 on Tuesday, as the percent of positive cases and current hospitalizations statewide continue to decrease.

Schools to reopen in the fall, Northam says

All Virginia schools will be able to reopen with in-person instruction in some capacity this fall, Northam said, “but the experience will look different.” The reopening guidelines will be in phases that give school divisions flexibility, and are recommendations, not mandates, as follows:

  • Phase One: special education programs and child care for working families
  • Phase Two: Phase One plus preschool through third grade students, English learners, and summer camps in school buildings
  • Phase Three: all students may receive in-person instruction as can be accommodated with strict social distancing measures in place, which may require alternative schedules that blend in-person and remote learning for students
  • Beyond Phase Three: divisions will resume “new-normal” operations under future guidance

Most school divisions will start in Phase 2, which features mostly remote learning, with in-person classes for Pre-K through 3rd grade.

Divisions will have to submit plans before they advance to the next phase.

Virginia Beach Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence said Tuesday the school board is holding a retreat in a few weeks where they will discuss all options and work on the plan. He says they will likely focus on a hybrid of in-person instruction and virtual learning.

“I think clearly the most challenging thing we’re going to be facing is that the social distancing requirements will limit the number of students who can be in a building at any given time,” said Dr. Spence.

In every scenario, he said social distancing will be mandatory.

If Virginia as a whole reaches Phase 3 by the fall, schools will be able to hold in-person classes, but are expected to have 6 feet of space between desks, have daily health screenings and require face coverings. There also must be options for virtual learning for students with health issues.

“The main message out of this, is that they will be back in school this fall,” Northam says.

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has also developed guidance for schools. The “Recover, Redesign, Restart” plan will be made available on the VDOE website Wednesday.

Here are some other highlights from Tuesday’s briefing:

Sports in Phase 2

Some youth sports will be allowed to resume games on Friday, with only practice for others, Chief of Staff Clark Mercer said. There were emphasis on minimizing field capacity, limiting shared equipment and “intentional” contact. “Sports can resume this Friday, but let’s do it in a smart way,” Mercer said.

Norfolk police chief named to state crime commission

Northam says Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone is one of three new appointees to the Virginia State Crime Commission, a bipartisan criminal justice panel under the General Assembly that gives recommendations on issues from police to parole. Northam called Boone a “reformer” and pointed to his willingness to interact with Black Lives Matters protesters.

Northern Va. and Richmond heading to Phase 2 on Friday

Northam said Northern Virginia and Richmond will be both be able to go to Phase 2 on Friday, June 12.

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