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Virginia Senate Votes To Mandate In-Person Learning

Virginia State Capitol building
FILE PHOTO: Virginia State Capitol building. (Louise Keeton/VPM)

The Virginia Senate voted Tuesday afternoon to require schools to provide an in-person option.

The  bill from Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) would go into effect in July, meaning it would impact local school districts’ plans for the upcoming school year. Dunnavant and Republican supporters were joined by a handful of Senate Democrats in approving the bill, including Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax). They pointed to  support for re-opening from the American Association of Physiciansand other medical professionals. 

On the floor of the Senate, Dunnavant said that the downsides of virtual learning have been devastating.

“We have safety issues, food insecurity, broadband, and IT inadequacy, we have an incredible strain on families across the state,” she said.

Dunnavant, who is a practicing OBGYN, also argued against critics of reopening who point to the risk to teachers. She highlighted recent medical research that shows  children are unlikely to spread COVID-19 outside of the home.

Despite winning over some Democrats, 13 senators voted against requiring an in-person option next school year. Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) said she wasn’t convinced this was a job for the state legislature.

“We have local school boards who are elected by their communities to make these decisions,” Hashmi said.

The question of whether the state should force schools to reopen in-person will now go to the House of Delegates, where it’s expected to meet a tougher challenge. Republicans have criticized the Democratic majority on the House Education Committee for refusing to meet during a special session last year to take up the reopening debate.

Locally, Chesterfield and Hanover Counties are the only school districts currently offering an in-person option. Henrico County Public Schools were set to begin offering face-to-face classes,  but drew back after learning many school nurses would be mobilized to help with vaccination efforts. Richmond Public Schools will remain virtual through the spring semester this year.

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