Virginia Gov. Northam will allow K-12 schools to resume in person classes as early as summer

All public and private schools in Virginia are on track to reopen as soon as this summer and in the fall for in-person classes, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday.

The state will reach reopening phase two by Friday, when schools can begin submitting required plans for reopening post-COVID-19 lockdowns, with an emphasis on protecting against the spread of disease.

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“Resuming in-person instruction is a high priority, but we must do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner,” Northam said in a statement.

Schools must offer guidance on the upcoming school term before the 2020-2021 academic year, the governor added.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam answers a question during a press briefing inside the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, V. Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Northam says students will return to school this fall, but with strict new social distancing guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam answers a question during a press briefing inside the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, V. Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Northam says students will return to school this fall, but with strict new social distancing guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

The state Department of Education will review the plans but Charles Pyle, a Virginia Department of Education spokesperson, said: "it is not an approval process.”

“Certainly these plans will be reviewed and if there are aspects to a plan that are at variance with social distancing requirements and all of the mitigation factors and best practices identified by the state health department and the CDC, there will be a follow up with the school division to provide support,” Pyle said.

Schools will be required to mandate at least 6 feet of physical distance between students, and staff must wear face coverings and undergo daily health screenings. Although face coverings will be strongly encouraged, particularly for older students, they won't be required.

Schools also can impose more stringent guidelines as they see fit, the governor said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said schools will incorporate a "hybrid approach" -- even in phase 3 of reopening when schools will return to in-person instruction.

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“School will be open for all students next year, but instruction will look different,” Lane said. “The phased, hybrid approach allows PreK-12 students to have valuable class time and face-to-face interaction with their peers, while prioritizing health and safety by ensuring physical distancing measures are maintained."