A a group of Republican state lawmakers in Virginia called for schools to fully reopen for in-person education, and criticized the approach being taken by Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, during a virtual news conference Wednesday.
The group said Northam should prioritize getting school buildings open five days a week and release guidelines to school districts on how to accomplish that.
“The science, research and numbers show convincingly that all students should be back learning in the classroom on a consistent and regular basis this fall,” said Henrico County Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant. Dunnavant is an obstetrician and gynecologist.
Currently, under the Northam administration’s guidelines, individual districts are allowed to decide how and when to reopen.
“There is no doubt we are facing a serious public health crisis, but because of a lack of leadership from the Northam administration, we have school districts scrambling to figure out what to do and scared to bring students back to school,” Dunnavant said.
Northam’s office responded by releasing a statement, accusing Republicans of “playing politics.”
“While Gov. Northam wants nothing more than to have children back in school this fall, recent surges in other states make it clear we need to proceed cautiously,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in the statement.
But state Republicans said they believe schools could be fully reopened safely, while leaving a virtual learning option for students and families who don’t feel comfortable returning.
“Children need to be in the classroom five days a week, and we need to give schools the tools to make this possible,” said Del. Kirk Cox, a retired teacher who represents Chesterfield County in Colonial Heights.
Sen. Jen Kiggans, a nurse practitioner whose district includes Virginia Beach, said that “children are the least likely age group to contract or spread COVID-19, but they are the ones being most disrupted by the guidelines and procedures being implemented by state officials.”
During a special legislative session next month, the Republicans said they would push for policy changes to help schools open their doors.
Those changes would include additional paid sick leave for teachers and staff, more funding for teacher pay raises and immunity for school districts for lawsuits related to the coronavirus.
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