Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says students will return to school this fall, but with strict new social distancing guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The guidelines unveiled Tuesday call for students to be spaced six feet apart at their desks and for teachers who can’t maintain that distance to wear masks. The guidelines also call for limiting access to or closing altogether certain mixed spaces, such as school cafeterias.
“All Virginia schools will open for students next year, but the school experience will look very different,” Northam said.
Virginia was one of the first states to cancel the school year back in March amid the coronavirus pandemic and Northam said the state's priorities for reopening later this year are on “the health and social, emotional and physical well being of students and staff.”
The state's guidelines are divided into three different phases. Most of the state is in the second phase of reopening and Northam said the current metrics look good, meaning the state could enter the third phase in coming weeks.
The new school guidelines only allow for widespread in-school instruction in Phase 3. Schools can offer summer camps and limited in-school instruction to certain students in Phase 2.
Northam's guidelines leave each of the state's school districts to come up with specifics for how they will reopen. Student schedules may be staggered to accommodate the guidelines, which could mean a mix of in-person and remote learning as well as changing the length of school days.
Each school district will be required to submit plans for reopening, including both private and public schools.
The Virginia Education Association, which represents teachers and staff, said the measures outlined by Northam would be costly and called for more federal aid and state spending.
“A crisis of this magnitude requires crisis measures to support Virginia students, especially those living in poverty,” VEA President Jim Livingston said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, Northam announced that he was appointing Jehmal Hudson to serve as a judge on the State Corporation Commission, a state panel that has large sway in regulating businesses in Virginia. Hudson will be the first African American to serve on the commission, which was created in 1902.