Virginia Educators Demand a Return to Statewide Remote Learning

Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, was one of four EA leaders Monday to call for a return to remote learning. Dogwood photo by Brian Carlton.

By Julia Raimondi

November 16, 2020

Four associations, representing 12,000 school employees, called for the change on Monday.

FAIRFAX-All Virginia schools need to go back to remote learning. Members of multiple education associations made that request Monday, calling for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to issue a statewide order.

The call comes as COVID-19 cases climb across the state. On Monday, Virginia reported 2,677 new cases, the highest daily number in more than a month. Fairfax County accounted for 367, the highest amount out of all the counties listed. As a result, the local school board suspended plans to increase the number of students taking part in face-to-face learning.

But that’s not enough, education officials say.

“The most recent guidelines given by the governor to protect the commonwealth specifically excluded schools,” said Kimberly Adams. “Gov. Northam must provide leadership for our schools, in addition to the guidance he has provided businesses and public spaces.”

Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, was joined at a press conference Monday by association leaders from Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington. Their message was clear. Schools need to be virtual until the virus is fully under control.

State Needs to Consider Safety First

Schools across Virginia made plans this month to return to in-person learning. Danville City Schools began its hybrid in-person model Nov. 9, while school districts like Loudoun County have been in-person since October. Combined, 15 divisions currently have regular, in-person learning going on. Another 78 operate on some form of partial or “hybrid” in-person program.

Only 39 school districts in Virginia remain or reverted to fully remote learning status over the last month.

Adams said that the safest option for students and staff would be for schools across the Commonwealth to be virtual. To do that, she called on the governor to bring Virginia back to either Phase 2 or Phase 1 of COVID-19 restrictions until cases return to a downward trend.

“It is unacceptable for our districts to continue to disregard science and medical experts,” Adams said. “Everyone wants to be back in schools and everyone wants to be back to normal. But we should open when it’s safe to do so.”

The president of the Loudoun Education Association, Sandy Sullivan, supported Adams’ demands. Sullivan said she was concerned about districts not properly enforcing safety protocols, which leads to higher risk and a disruption in learning. 

“Appropriate PPE and training is not consistently being given to educators in a timely manner,” Sullivan said. “Not all students [and staff] are following prescribed protocols for mask wearing.”

As of Nov. 13, two staff members at Loudoun County Public Schools have active positive cases and 74 are in quarantine. Eight students also have active cases and an additional 35 are currently in quarantine. 

‘No County is an Island’

The various associations that represented Northern Virginia chose to give a joint press conference because each county impacted the other in terms of cases and policy. Maggie Hansford, the president for Prince William Education Association, explained why no individual county alone could solve the education problem.

“As COVID cases rise in our communities we understand no county is an island,” Hansford said. “We need a clear, uniform standard for Virginia schools to utilize in order to protect students and staff and allow for community transparency.”

Hansford said that transparency was key in making sure communities understood which policies were in effect and why, so that residents could better follow them. Confusion in policy can make it more difficult for those policies to be properly enforced.

The president of the Arlington Education Association, Ingrid Gant, said that while some superintendents were being transparent and enforcing policy correctly, many are not, which is why she sought Gov. Northam’s guidance. 

“We are putting our educators’ and students’ lives in danger,” Gant said. Our option would be to be in the building. We’re not there, we’re not ready. PPE equipment is not where it should be. Transparency is not where it should be. We need to make sure our governor does his part.”

No Response Yet

Adams said that the governor has not responded yet to their calls for remote learning guidance. The associations have sent more than 500 letters to the governor and their local legislators but have not yet received any response. She also shared concern about a lack of metrics. When should a district go into remote learning? How many cases is considered an outbreak?

Simply put, there needs to be state guidelines to determine when a student returns to class, association leaders argue. That hasn’t happened yet, even though we’re eight months into the pandemic.

Not everyone likes the idea of students being sent back to virtual learning or not allowed to attend in-person. At least one heckler was at the press conference, attempting to shout over the association leaders his dissatisfaction with their demands.

“So many kids are being left behind, especially minority kids, because teachers won’t do their jobs,” the heckler said. “Shameful! Ridiculous!”

Julia Raimondi is a freelance writer for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].

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