Today, the House Committee on Education, approved by a vote of 17-3, an amendment in the form of a substitute bill to SB1303. Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg offered up the substitute to make needed changes to SB1303 from its original intent. The measure in its original format would have stripped away all decision-making authority away from local school divisions while putting Virginia students, their families, and the Commonwealth’s educators at greater risk of harm from the COVID pandemic. The substitute bill to SB1303 is a more responsible approach to reopening schools for in-person instruction. Last week, the CDC released an operational strategy guide for the safe delivery of in-person instruction at K-12 schools. It’s the first new school-specific guidance issued by the CDC during the Biden administration. It has been eagerly awaited by families and educators who want to get physically back to in-person learning as soon as safely possible.
VEA President Dr. James Fedderman gave testimony to the substitute this morning, citing that educators have been among the true heroes throughout this crisis, continuing throughout the pandemic to educate our students. “We are on the right path to reopening schools for in-person instruction. Still, we need to be driven by the health and safety of, first and foremost, the students we teach and to ensure proper mitigation measures for our educators,” said Dr. Fedderman. “We believe this substitute addresses our school communities’ need to pay special attention to address this pandemic’s mitigation in our schools. Our students and educators desperately need our support across every Virginia community and at the Statehouse as well.”
The measure will take effect on July 1, 2021. There was an attempt, in committee, to add an emergency clause, which failed by a vote of 13-9. You may view Delegate VanValkenburg’s presentation of the substitute and testimony by Dr. James Fedderman below.
The substitute to Senate Bill 1303 would require each school board to offer, for the duration of the 2021–2022 school year:
- in-person instruction to each student enrolled in the local school division in a public elementary and secondary school for at least the minimum number of required instructional hours and to each student enrolled in the local school division in a public school-based early childhood care and education program for the entirety of the instructional time provided pursuant to such program.
- each school board shall
- (i) adopt, implement, and, when appropriate, update specific parameters for the provision of in-person instruction and
- (ii) provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- All teachers and school staff shall be offered access to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccination through their relevant local health district.
- Any local school board may permit any teacher who is required to isolate as the result of a COVID-19 infection and any teacher who is required to quarantine as the result of exposure to another individual with a COVID-19 infection to teach from a remote location and in a fully virtual manner for the duration of such period of isolation or quarantine, consistent with the mitigation strategies as set forth in § 2 of this act.
- Any teacher or other school staff member who is permitted to perform any job function from a remote location or in a fully virtual manner as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq.) shall be permitted to continue to perform any such job function in such a manner.
- If a local school board determines, in collaboration with the local health department and strict adherence to “Step 2: Determine the Level of School Impact” in the Department of Health’s Interim Guidance to K-12 School Reopening or any similar provision in any successor guidance document published by the Department of Health, that the transmission of COVID-19 within a school building is at a high level, the local school board may provide fully remote virtual instruction or a combination of in-person instruction and remote virtual instruction to the at-risk groups of students indicated as the result of such collaboration or if needed, the whole student population in the school building, but in each instance only for as long as it is necessary to address and ameliorate the level of transmission of COVID-19 in the school building.
- Any local school board may, for any period during which the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic is in effect, provide fully remote virtual instruction to any enrolled student upon the request of such student’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian.
- The Department of Education shall establish benchmarks for successful virtual learning and guidelines for providing interventions to students who fail to meet such benchmarks and for transitioning such students back to in-person instruction.
- The Department of Health shall maintain a guidance document for K-12 school reopening that contains metrics for determining whether transmission of COVID-19 within public school buildings is at a low, medium, or high level.
COVID-19 IMPACT STUDIES APPROVED BY HOUSE RULES COMMITTEE
The House Rules Committee on Monday advanced a VEA priority measure to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Virginia’s public schools, students, and school employees.
The VEA applauds Senator Louise Lucas and Delegate Nancy Guy’s work in introducing and moving the impact studies through the legislative process. The two measures, SJ308 and HJ549, will direct the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to study the impact of COVID-19 on Virginia’s public schools, students, and school employees, including
- examining and determining reasons for barriers to student success in virtual and hybrid models as well as the overall impact of COVID-19 face-to-face learning restrictions on previously existing student achievement gaps, student achievement, and student well-being, including any disproportionate impact on at-risk populations;
- determining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on staffing levels, including the impact of teacher and school employee retirements and resignations on delivery of instruction and the ability of local school boards to fully staff their needs, employment levels, and local budgets;
- determining the short-term and projected long-term changes in student enrollment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of such changes on funding levels;
- determining the impact of implementing COVID-19 health and safety measures in public schools;
- evaluating public schools’ level of emergency preparedness to face another pandemic or statewide crisis and making recommendations to help guide planning for such events and
- examining programs that can address learning loss and identifying barriers to implementing those programs, including resource gaps.
In testimony to the House Rules-Studies Committee, VEA Interim Director of Government Relations, Shane Riddle, thanked Speaker Filler-Corn and committee members for entertaining a hearing on SJ308 and explained to the committee that SJ308/HJ549 would ensure that we LEARN from this pandemic, allowing us to make the policy choices that will better prepare us for the post-COVID environment.
SJ308 was moved unanimously from the House Rules Committee and will now move to the House floor for debate and approval.