Since Covid-19 forced schools to close last spring, we’re seeing more students that are depressed and isolated, we're seeing failure rates double, and our most at-risk students are falling even further behind. It’s well beyond time for schools to reopen, and time for the General Assembly to take the leadership to ensure they do.
That’s why I joined with two democratic colleagues yesterday to highlight how important this issue is this Session and what means the General Assembly has to ensure our children get back to learning in the classroom. This is a bipartisan issue that unfortunately last fall turned political. We are going to lead this session on making decisions that are best for Virginia’s children.
That’s why I have introduced legislation, SB 1303, that will require all Virginia school divisions to provide an option for in-person learning. We have to give parents the option to have their children back face-to-face. This legislation won’t require or force families into an in-person option, but it will ensure that any child who wants or needs to attend school in person can do so. This bill, and an accompanying budget amendment from Senator Chap Petersen, have bi-partisan support.
Children want in-person learning. Many parents need their children in school. Just look at the Hanover school district. They re-opened this fall for five day a week learning and had 60% of students choose to come back to in person learning, with very few cases of Covid-19. Heading into the spring semester, 1,261 more students have asked to come back to in-person learning, while 179 requested to shift to virtual learning - most in high school.
Both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have consistently stated that students should be in the classroom learning with certain measures in place to help keep everyone safe. The American Association of Pediatrics has published information that confirms there isn’t a correlation between in-person learning and community spread. We have also seen international studies showing that transmission among this age range is just not high enough to offset the decision to keep children out of school.
I sympathize with teachers who are older, high-risk, or worried about school conditions. Our private schools, preschools, and school districts that are open have shown that we can bring children back into the classroom safely and also protect our teachers. By limiting adult interaction and keeping kids in cohorts we can help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in schools.
The bottom line is that we have a constitutional obligation in Virginia to provide a quality education to all of our children. Right now, most school districts in Virginia are failing to meet that benchmark. That is why my top priority this session is ensuring that all students in Virginia have the option to go back to in-person learning.