REOPEN VIRGINIA SCHOOLS

Thank you for sharing your feelings with me on the issue of school “in-person” attendance for the coming school year. I have heard from many like you with deep concerns for the safety of our students and their teachers. With the second half of the 2019-2020 school year lost due to the ongoing pandemic, many parents are understandably eager to see their children back in the classroom this fall. Of course, reopening our schools during this pandemic will require safeguards to ensure the health and safety of our children, teachers, and other support staff. I’m confident this can be done.

As you may know, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released guidance for reopening schools in the fall. The AAP stated that their guidance “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” They went on to say that “schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being.” The science and data show that all students should be back in the classroom on a regular basis this fall. It’s evident that children rarely transmit COVID-19 between themselves and adults.

And according to an article on the recent comments made by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) on reopening schools. As quoted in the article, the CDC Director, Robert Redfield, states: “I’m of the point of view as a public health leader in this nation, that having the schools actually closed is a greater public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen.” In June, Governor Northam unveiled his mandated guidance to local school divisions and his proposal was quickly rejected by local school divisions — and me — as unrealistic. Under COVID-19 Phase III rules, in-person instruction is allowed, but only with extensive, often unrealistic, social distancing measures such as staggered class schedules and limited bus capacity.

The Governor needs to go back to the drawing board and give our local Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Stafford and Fauquier County School boards the ability to safely offer five-day classroom instruction.

My Republican colleagues and I will introduce legislative changes in the upcoming Special Session if the Governor fails to rework his school reopening plan. Virginia currently has the resources necessary to ensure students and teachers can return to the classroom safely and ensure further education isn’t lost.

There is no question that we are currently facing a public health crisis, but Governor Northam’s lack of leadership has caused confusion and fear for our local divisions as they work to bring our students back to the classroom. His ‘guidance’ has caused confusion on how to comply with his mandates, as well as fear of being sued for not properly implementing them. I know that the lasting impacts of a disrupted school will be felt for years to come and will have a negative effect on an entire generation.

What we’ve seen from the Governor is an unworkable plan that considers only one aspect of closed schools and fails to recognize what happens to students who aren’t in the classroom. Many students in the rural parts of our area don’t have access to high speed internet and computers — they rely on in-classroom instruction to further their education.

Additionally, to afford to live a decent life, many families rely on two incomes and with students out of school, they are burdened with additional childcare expense – or someone quits their job. While some districts can provide these services to their students, I worry that under this current reopening plan, many students will be further left behind in their educational pursuits. Our youth need social interaction. Developing social skills through interactions with other students is equally as important as studying math, sciences and all the rest.

Please contact me with your thoughts about how Virginia should proceed for the upcoming school year. You may want to let Governor Northam know how you feel about his plans, 804-786-2211.