On June 11, Governor Ralph Northam issued guidance for Virginia public and private higher education institutions as they develop plans to safely reopen their campuses and resume in-person instruction. This guidance document was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Health, and was informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The governor is directing all of Virginia’s colleges and universities to create detailed reopening plans that demonstrate compliance with this new guidance.
“Virginia has one of the best and most diverse systems of higher education in the nation and each institution will take on this challenge in a way that meets their unique mission, location, circumstances, and student bodies,” said Governor Northam. “A safe, responsible reopening of Virginia’s college and university campuses is critical, especially for students who depend on our campus communities to provide valuable resources that they do not have access to at home.”
Secretary of Education Atif Qarni held 35 strategy sessions with diverse groups of education stakeholders between May 29 and June 8 to gather their recommendations on how different reopening scenarios would impact their respective roles. Secretary Qarni, Deputy Secretary Fran Bradford, and staff from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) engaged 800 individuals in these conversations, and heard a wide range of perspectives including parents, students, faculty, student affairs specialists, college access program staff, and more.
“At their best, Virginia higher education institutions are engines of economic and social mobility for the students they serve and the communities they are embedded in,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “Virginia’s colleges and universities create space for dialogue about hard issues and promote new ideas that are critical to moving the Commonwealth forward. For all of this to be possible, students, faculty, staff, and families alike need to know that our institutions are prioritizing the health and safety of campus communities. Transparency and accountability is critical in this process.”
Virginia’s higher education reopening guidance is among the first in the nation, and is one of the most comprehensive accounts of criteria that should be considered when reopening a college or university campus. The document requires institutions to meet certain public health conditions in order to reopen their campuses, and to develop plans to address the following considerations:
Repopulation of the campus
Monitoring health conditions to detect infection
Containment to prevent spread of the disease when detected
Shutdown considerations if necessitated by severe Conditions and/or public health guidance
“With this robust guidance document, Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities can begin the hard work necessary to reopen their campuses,” said Peter Blake, Director of SCHEV. “While life at our colleges and universities will change, the energy, creativity and commitment shown by faculty and staff ensures that the learning experience will not be sacrificed. SCHEV stands ready to support institutions in developing strategies to serve students more effectively, without sacrificing the highest public health standards.”
Institutions must submit comprehensive reopening plans SCHEV, who will review their plans for compliance to relevant guidelines. Plans may need to be updated as guidance evolves, especially in the areas of testing, contact tracing, and symptom tracking. Institutions are encouraged to post their reopening plans publicly.