The Virginia Commission on Youth held its first meeting of 2021 on May 3 to review and approve its work plan for 2021 and to receive a briefing from Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane on the effect of the pandemic on PreK-12 education in the Commonwealth. The Commission will be undertaking three major projects this year, as outlined below.
- “Crossover youth” information sharing: Legislation enacted in 2021 directed the Commission to establish a work group to make recommendations on best practices for sharing of data and records regarding “crossover youth,” who are served by the child welfare as well as the juvenile justice systems, while protecting the privacy of youth and families. This provision was included in a bill that allows access to certain juvenile justice records by staff from the Department of Social Services or a local department, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services or a local community services board, when local agencies have entered into a formal agreement with the Department of Juvenile Justice to provide coordinated services to the youth. Representatives of local departments of social services will be invited to participate in the work group, among other interested stakeholders; Commission members encouraged the inclusion of representatives of local school divisions as well. A report is due by November 1, 2021. Senator David Marsden, who chairs the Commission on Youth, noted that the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission is also studying the state’s juvenile justice system as a whole, to include the provision of education in juvenile detention centers (an issue the Commission on Youth studied in 2020); he plans to monitor JLARC’s work and provide updates to the Commission on Youth.
- Workforce development for youth in foster care: The Commission will convene an advisory group to make recommendations to improve opportunities to support youth aging out of foster care in securing employment. Commission staff noted that these youth frequently struggle with the transition to the workforce. As part of the study plan, staff will identify best practices at the state and national level, working with stakeholders (to include local departments of social services and local Workforce Investment Boards).
- Collection of Evidence-Based Practices for Children and Adolescents with Mental Health Treatment Needs: The Commission will undertake its biennial update of this reference document, which compiles information on treatments that are supported by evidence and is intended to assist families in making choices about treatment options. An advisory group assists Commission staff in this work.
COVID and PreK-12 Education in Virginia: Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. James Lane gave a presentation on the impacts of COVID on the PreK-12 system in Virginia. VDOE released updated guidance recently in how school divisions can most effectively recover as they return to in-person instruction, the vaccination rate of teachers (over 60%), and policy waivers for the 2021-2022 School Year, such as state accreditation of schools, teacher licensure requirements, and alternative assessments options for certain Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. Student enrollment levels continue to show decreases compared to pre-pandemic levels; however, it is hoped that as virus mitigation strategies become more effective, these will improve. Currently, only one school division in the Commonwealth continues to offer predominantly remote instruction; most local school divisions are offering in-person, partial in-person, or hybrid learning. Interestingly, between 20-40% of parents are choosing fully remote instruction for their students, even if in-person instruction is available. Remote learning continues to pose challenges for student success rates and access to broadband. Disturbingly, the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics reports significant increases in child mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems. Phonological Awareness Literacy (PALS) screening data also shows K-3 students falling below reading benchmarks and an increase of more 10% in likelihood of reading failure. Similar concerns exist for literacy, math, self-regulation, and social skills. These data support the need to prioritize in-person instruction for the youngest of learners and those with greater socio-economic and emotional needs. Most school divisions are moving to an extended summer calendar to address learning loss resultant from the pandemic. Federal and state funding of these efforts remains essential to success.