RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — In Governor Ralph Northam's Monday COVID-19 briefing, he announced a new "Education Work Group" to help chart a path forward for determining when and how Virginia's schools can safely reopen.
The group is made up of representatives from Virginia’s public and private early childhood, K-12, and higher education systems, including teachers, school system superintendents, parents, college presidents, state agency personnel, special education advocates, museum directors, and students too.
According to a statement by Governor Northam's office, the groups "represents the whole of Virginia’s education system" and includes representatives from every region of Virginia.
Secretary of Education Atif Qarni formed the work group and chaired its first meeting on April 23. Since that time, the group has focused on developing recommendations to make sure school policies throughout Virginia's education system are consistent when it comes to returning to in-person settings and ensuring continuing learning.
“I am deeply grateful for Virginia’s educators, administrators, school nutrition workers, support staff, parents, and students for the ways they have adapted to new learning environments over the past two months,” said Governor Northam. “As we make decisions about the path forward, this panel will help ensure that we are best supporting rural students, English language learners, students of color, and students with special needs. School closures have been necessary to protect health and safety, but lost class time has a disproportionate impact on Virginia’s most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged students. That’s why equity will remain at the forefront as we determine when and how we can safely and responsibly return to in-person learning.”
Qarni chairs the work group, and it's staffed by Deputy Secretary Education Fran Bradford, State Council of Higher Education Director Peter Blake, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane, who make up the steering committee for the COVID-19 Education Work Group.
“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.”
Schools across Virginia have been closed since March 13, when Gov. Northam directed all K-12 schools to close for a minimum of two weeks. A week and a half later, on March 23, the governor became one of the first in the country to order schools closed for the remainder of the academic year.
Others followed suit not long afterward.
Shortly after the school year was suspended, the Virginia Department of Education established the Continuity for Learning (C4L) Task Force, which has been made up of more than 120 teachers, leaders, and collaborating educational partners across Virginia focused on helping school divisions create plans to keep children learning and keep children fed.
Virginia’s COVID-19 Education Work Group will develop recommendations on key issues schools must address before reopening and will help "help determine how to ensure continuity of learning for Virginia students from cradle to classroom to career."
Once those guidelines are developed, the work group plans to transition to focusing on long-term recovery plans, including addressing learning gaps and the social and emotional needs of students after long-lasting closures.
With the group's guidance, Gov. Northam plans to outline a roadmap for Virginia schools, colleges, and universities to return to in-person learning in a safe, equitable, and responsible manner, which he has said he hopes will be in the fall.
The approach will be based on data and science, according the the work group, and 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. "
Members of Virginia’s COVID-19 Education Work Group include:
• Jenna Conway, Chief School Readiness Officer, Office of the Governor
• Holly Coy, Assistant Superintendent for Policy, Communications, and Equity, Virginia Department of Education
• Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Commissioner for Population Health, Virginia Department of Health
• Jennifer O. Macdonald, Director, Division of Child and Family Health, Virginia Department of Health
• Dr. Lynn Clayton Prince, Director of Special Education, Powhatan County Public Schools and President-Elect, Virginia Council of Administrators of Special Education
• Pam Simms, Program Director, Gladys H. Oberle School
• Dr. Donna Henry, Chancellor, University of Virginia’s College at Wise and Chair, Council of Presidents in Virginia
• Dr. Michael Rao, President, Virginia Commonwealth University
• Taylor Reveley, President, Longwood University
• Dr. Makola Abdullah, President, Virginia State University
• Dr. Sharon Morrissey, Senior Vice Chancellor, Virginia Community College System
• Dr. John Downey, President, Blue Ridge Community College
• Dr. Eric Williams, Superintendent, Loudoun County Public Schools
• Dr. Jared Cotton, Superintendent, Chesapeake Public Schools
• Dr. Dennis Carter, Superintendent, Smyth County Schools
• Kathy Burcher, Representative, Virginia Education Association
• Melinda Bright, Representative, Virginia Education Association
• Dr. Travis Burns, Principal, Northumberland High School and President, Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals
• Dr. Andrew Buchheit, Principal, T. Clay Wood Elementary School and President, Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals
• Ann-Marie Ward, Council Treasurer, Virginia Parent Teacher Association
• Pamela Croom, President-Elect, Virginia Parent Teacher Association
• Teddy Martin II, Member, Henry County School Board and Regional Chair, Virginia School Boards Association
• Karen Corbett-Sanders, Chair, Fairfax County School Board
• Grace Creasey, Executive Director, Virginia Council for Private Education
• Robert Lambeth, President, Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia
• Dr. Larry Stimpert, President, Hampden-Sydney College
• Dr. Tiffany Franks, President, Averett University
• Dan Gecker, President, Virginia Board of Education
• Marianne Radcliff, Representative, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
• Jared Calfee, Executive Director, Virginia21
• Rich Conti, Director, Science Museum of Virginia
• Dr. Betty Adams, Executive Director, Southern Virginia Higher Education Center
• Ingrid Grant, Member, Governor’s African American Advisory Board
• Hyun Lee, Member, Governor’s Asian Advisory Board
• Diana Brown, Member, Governor’s Latino Advisory Board
• Ashley Marshall, Chair, Virginia Council on Women
• Shan Lateef, Rising Senior, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and Governor’s STEM Phenom Award Winner