‘Return to School’ bill further modified in committee; graduates to House Floor

February 23, 2021

On February 22, SB 1303 (Dunnavant) was heard and further modified by the House Education Committee. As previously reported, the bill was modified with substitute language developed with the patron by the Chair of the House Education Committee’s SOL and SOQ Subcommittee that would require local school boards to offer either fully in-person instruction or a combination of in-person and remote virtual instruction to enrolled students for the duration of the 2021-2022 school year, among other provisions. The bill was further modified with substitute language adopted by the full House Education Committee that specifically requires local school divisions to provide in-person instruction and defines in-person instruction to mean any form of instructional interaction between teachers and students that occurs in real time and not include the act of proctoring remote online learning in classroom. School divisions would be required to offer in-person instruction for at least the minimal required instructional hours and to adopt in the maximum extent practicable, COVID-19 mitigation strategies as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The bill retains the requirement that local school divisions offer virtual instruction at the request of a parent, that teachers and school staff be permitted reasonable virtual accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, that all teachers and staff be offered access to a COVID-19 vaccine, and that the provisions of the legislation will expire on August 1, 2022. The bill also allows that if the school board determines that COVID-19 transmission in a school building is at a high level in accordance with Department of Health guidance documents, as long as this occurs during the Governor’s declaration of state of emergency.

A motion to add an emergency clause to the bill to allow it to take effect upon passage was defeated in committee. If passed, the bill will give school divisions until July 1, 2021, to prepare for any changes to their instructional models. According to data from the Virginia Department of Education, all but two school divisions are currently offering some form of in-person instruction and 20 school divisions are conducting full in-person instruction. The Committee reported the bill with the substitute language, 17-3.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

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