Virginia Governor Ralph Northam directed all schools to offer in-person classes by March 15, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other leaders say it's possible to reopen safely.
Northam said families won't be required to return to in-person education, but schools should offer an option by mid-March.
"It's possible for us to have in-person learning safely," Northam said. "Everybody will come on board with this and get our children back into classrooms."
News4's Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey has been covering this side of the state since joining NBC4 in 1992. She's joined by reporter Drew Wilder.
Northam pledged to take action to make sure schools take safety measures, including masking, spacing desks and sanitizing.
Federal money from the CARES Act will help fund the safety measures. Soon, the Virginia Board of Education will also announce plans to address learning loss students may have suffered during a year of all-online learning.
Many teachers have been vaccinated and more are scheduled to get shots this month, but it's not a requirement for educators to get one before returning to the classroom, Northam said.
Coronavirus case numbers are declining, but Northam said adjustments are possible if trends start to deteriorate: "None of this is written in stone."
Northam also wants schools to offer classes in summer, hoping to make up for learning loss and help students feel less isolated amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Teachers would be paid for extra time worked, officials said.
In response to the Governor's announcement, Prince William County Schools representatives said PWCS is "well ahead" of his directive and has "been a leader in the state of Virginia in the safe return of students to in-person learning."
Since the first day of school in September, PWCS has had vulnerable vulnerable learners in-person four days a week at all grade levels. Pre-K to third grade students have come back to the classroom between November and January.
Fourth, fifth, sixth, and ninth grade students will return to PWCS classrooms on Feb. 25. Remaining high schoolers will return on March 2. PWCS parents and guardians will still have the choice to keep their kids fully virtual.
In an interview with the Washington Post released Thursday, Northam said he's working with teachers, school boards and superintendents to extend learning opportunities into the summer.
“We want to extend our classroom to this summer to allow our children to catch up so everyone will be ready in the fall,” Northam told the Post.
Northam says getting children and teachers back in school safely will improve learning and allow for social interaction which he hopes will reduce the rate of depression among students.