Giving feedback on re-opening Virginia schools, education work group starts listening sessions

Recommendations on key issues schools must address before reopening

ROANOKE, Va. – Discussions kick off Wednesday as leaders try to work through the challenges of students and staff returning to school in the fall.

The Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Education Work Group is made up of superintendents, college leaders and the Virginia Department of Health.

The group was announced last week and many people voiced concerns that teachers, parents and community members were not going to be involved in the discussions.

There are now sessions with Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni. Many are organized by the Virginia Education Association to include teachers in all the grade levels, special education, transportation and more.

The workgroup is chaired by Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, and is staffed by Deputy Secretary Education Fran Bradford, State Council of Higher Education Director Peter Blake, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. They make up the steering committee for the workgroup.

“As we begin to think about how Virginia’s education system can operate in the summer and fall, it is crucial that we have the advice of a diverse, thoughtful group of education leaders,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This group will use their expertise to guide our approach and help ensure that all voices are heard and all recommendations are made through the lens of equity.”

“This is a chance for you to suggest strategies that support continuity of learning, effective school operations, and safe learning environments for students and staff, while ensuring equitable opportunities for all,” says the signup page on the VEA website. “Secretary Qarni will be incorporating your insights into the recommendations being prepared by task forces operated by the Virginia Department of Education and Secretary of Education. These Strategy Sessions are not about whether schools reopen in the fall, as that decision will be informed by the Virginia Department of Health.”

“My insight is that those decisions have not yet been made and providing the opportunity for educators to have a voice in what continuity of learning can look like and what it may look like and so forth given a variety of circumstances is a very important step in making the most informed decision possible,” said Jim Livingston, VEA President. “Our educators are frontline workers when it comes to our kids and we welcome the opportunity to not only represent our educators but to represent our students because they are our most valuable resource in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

To join, you have to fill out a form for one of the eight sessions and participants will be chosen to ensure that each group comprises a diverse group of VEA members, “We will take into account geographic, gender, and ethnic diversity as 20-member groups are established. Members selected to participate will be contacted with weblink information,” says the website.

Strategy Sessions with Secretary Qarni and Virginia’s COVID-19 Education Recovery and Response Work Group. Contact the organizing group to join a session.

● Wednesday, May 27 at 11 a.m. - School Counselors (organized by VA School Counselors Association)

● Wednesday, May 27 at 4 p.m. - Pre-K to 3rd Grade Educators (organized by VA Education Association)

● Thursday, May 28 at 9 a.m. - School Nutrition and Childhood Food Insecurity (organized by No Kid Hungry, Former First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Heidi Hertz, and Dr. Sandy Curwood, Director of the Office of School Nutrition Programs at the Virginia Department of Education)

● Thursday, May 28 at 12 p.m. - College Faculty (organized by SCHEV and Senator Hashmi)

● Thursday, May 28 at 4 p.m. - 4th Grade to 8th Grade Educators (organized by VA Education Association)

● Thursday, May 28 at 5:15 p.m. - Norfolk and Fairfax Teachers (organized by AFT)

● Friday, May 29 at 9 a.m. - High School Parents (organized by VA PTA)

● Friday, May 29 at 10 a.m. - Private Day Providers (organized by VA Institution for Autism and Del. Rob Bell)

● Friday, May 29 at 12 p.m. - Student Affairs Staff and Institutions of Higher-Ed Campus Reopening staff (organized by SCHEV and Senator Hashmi)

● Friday, May 29 at 2 p.m. - Parents and Families of Students with Disabilities (organized by Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center)

● Friday, May 29 at 4 p.m. - High School Educators (organized by VA Education Association)

● Monday, June 1 at 12 p.m. - College Students registration code StudentStrategy (organized by Virginia 21)

● Monday, June 1 at 2 p.m. - Elementary School Parents (organized by VA PTA)

● Monday, June 1 at 4 p.m. - Special Education Teachers (organized by VA Education Association)

● Monday, June 1 at 5:15 p.m. - Tidewater/Eastern VA school board members (organized by VA School Board Association)

● Tuesday, June 2 at 2 p.m. - Higher Education Parents (organized by VA PTA)

● Tuesday, June 2 at 4 p.m. - Pupil Transportation Staff (organized by VA Education Association)

● Tuesday, June 2 at 5:15 p.m. - English Language Learner Educators/Supervisors (organized by Virginia ELs Supervisors Association)

● Tuesday, June 2 at 6:30 p.m. - Southside, Southwest, Valley, Central school board members (organized by VA School Board Association)

● Wednesday, June 3 at 2 p.m. - Special Education Parents (organized by VA PTA)

● Wednesday, June 3 at 4 p.m. - Nutrition Services/Custodial & Maintenance Staff (organized by VA Education Association)

● Wednesday, June 3 at 6 p.m. - York County Residents (organized by York County School Board Member)

● Thursday, June 4 at 4 p.m. - Career and Technical Educators (organized by VA Education Association)

● Friday, June 5 at 11 a.m. - School Librarians (organized by VASL)

● Friday, June 5 at 4 p.m. - Arts, Music, and PE Educators (organized by VA Education Association)

● Monday, June 8 at 5:15 p.m. - Northern VA school board members (organized by VA School Board Association)

From the Governor’s news release:

Virginia’s COVID-19 Education Work Group will develop recommendations on key issues schools must address before reopening and help determine how to ensure continuity of learning for Virginia students from cradle to classroom to career. After this guidance is developed, the workgroup will transition to focus on long-term recovery plans to include addressing learning gaps and the social-emotional needs of students resulting from school closures.

In the coming weeks, Governor Northam will outline a roadmap for Virginia schools, colleges, and universities to return to in-person learning in a safe, equitable, and responsible manner. The data-driven and science-based approach will include recommendations from the COVID-19 Education Work Group, and will be coordinated with the Forward Virginia plan to gradually ease public health restrictions. The Forward Virginia plan is grounded in federal CDC guidelines and includes specific goals to contain the spread of the virus through increased testing, contact tracing, and ensuring adequate medical capacity.

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