Northam Backpedals on Nutty School Rules

by Kerry Dougherty

I hate to say I told you so, but I did.

In early June, Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled rigid guidelines for reopening public schools that guaranteed students would be spending most of their time at home this fall, mouth breathing while staring at their computer screens.

None of Northam’s restrictions make sense, given that children are basically at low risk from Covid-19 and research shows they aren’t spreaders, either, I wrote at the time.

But hey, Northam – the Science Guy – hasn’t noticed.

So students will get to experience the joy of staggered schedules. Closed cafeterias. Social distancing. Empty school buses. Virtual “learning” several days a week.

Oh, and they’ll be forbidden to mingle.

It wasn’t just me. Everyone capable of simple math realized that Northam’s rules for social distancing – six feet – meant that there was no way a full complement of children could return to their classrooms this fall. No room could hold more than a handful of students.

That would mean more virtual learning. A miserable failure.

And the bus requirements? One child in every other row meant that about 13 kids could ride a bus built to hold 70. Perfect. Bet the climate changers would love seeing a stream of belching cars arrive at schools each morning and afternoon as parents delivered children who couldn’t fit on the empty buses.

As parents fumed and demanded that schools reopen so their kids could attempt to make up the work they missed last year and after dedicated teachers begged to be with their students again, the Northam administration backpedaled slightly, saying the rules were not mandates and schools could get waivers.

Weird. Almost every other decree from Richmond has been a mandate.

Now, less than a month later, the governor has backed off even more. Perhaps Northam saw the light after the American Academy of Pediatrics insisted kids need to be back in class lest they grow fat and depressed from government-ordered isolation.

Whatever the reason, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that, “State officials have quietly updated guidance on reopening schools to include a new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that says students can be as close as 3 feet apart…

“That recommendation, which is 3 feet closer than the 6 feet suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could mean more students inside classrooms this fall.”

This is excellent news. Northam gets credit for admitting – sort of – that he was wrong.

Now the only problem will be luring recalcitrant teachers back into the classroom. Educators in Fairfax, for instance, have said they don’t want to return until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19.


Offer them unpaid sabbaticals until a vaccine is developed. Hire replacements who actually want to work.

Oh, and any school district that does not reopen fully this fall should see its budget slashed and refunds offered to parents who can use the loot to get their kids into private schools.

Last time I checked, most of them were reopening.

This column was republished with permission from

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26 responses to “Northam Backpedals on Nutty School Rules

  1. Is the 3 foot rule from the CDC?

  2. Meanwhile, nobody knows what’s going to happen in Fairfax County. Their utterly incompetent efforts at virtual teaching last Spring have apparently not deterred the powers that be from continuing to consider an all virtual school year.

    It’s July 8 with an Aug 25 start date for schools in Fairfax County. Should parents who don’t work from home be making arrangements to find childcare during the school day since their children will be home? Who knows? Should parents who normally put their children on the school bus as the means of transportation to and from school be looking into alternate transportation if at least some children will be allowed back into the physical schools? Who knows? Will the teachers represented by the teachers’ unions refuse to come to class? Who knows?

    As usual, our incompetent government has an underlying philosophy of “let them eat cake” when it comes to the taxpayers who pay their salaries. The Fairfax County School Board, FCPS administrators and the teachers’ unions will take their own sweet time deciding what they want to do in their own best interests. Parents will go scrambling to accomodate whatever plan they devise. Meanwhile, some on this blog will continue to make apologies for an ever-expanding government that provides an ever-contracting level of quality service to the citizens it falsely claims to support.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Mr. DJ Fairfax parents have to decide by July 15 what they want to do.
      Option 1: 4 days a week of Virtual Instruction.
      Option 2: 2 days a week of In Person Instruction and 3 days a week of Independent Instruction.

      Once a parent picks the option that is it. No switching around permitted. You are stuck with the choice for the year or until somebody says something different.

      • I know. But 70% of members of the three teachers’ unions say they are uncomfortable or unwilling to return to school at all. Have the unions agreed to the proposal? Or, are we in for a strike / work slowdown / etc. I”d like to clearly hear the union support for the Board of Education options. As I recall, the union objections were voiced after the School Board described their options. Have the unions backed down?

        I feel like this matter is still unsettled.

        • James Wyatt Whitehead V

          It is hard to believe the Fairfax school board has ceded so much power to a teachers association. The board members do not seem to have the stiff spine needed to tell the association the way it is going to be.

  3. Fredericksburg is going to a hybrid schedule… on Aug 10 – one month from now.

    Fredericksburg schools looking to reopen Aug. 10 with mix of in-school, at-home learning

    Most Fredericksburg students are expected to head back to classrooms once the city’s schools reopen Aug. 10, but they will only be there two days per week.

    Instruction would be online for the rest of the week, according to a plan drafted by a task force that includes school officials, teachers and parents.

    It divides students equally into four groups for the fall semester, and alternates schedules for in-school and online instruction so that only two groups are in school buildings at a time.

    what might be useful is in various BR commenters share what is going on in their locality.

    How about Richmond, Henrico, Tidewater, Roanoke, Lynchburg, etc?

    • At least Fredricksburg made a decision. That’s a step in the right direction.

      • well… maybe… it’s a proposal that invites discussion……

        From what I can see, a LOT of schools are tentatively leaning to hybrid as the least bad of the worst options.

        I think they are trying – but there are major competing issues….and most options have deal-killers in them.

        If schools open and then have an outbreak that affects several teacchers, they’re probably done…. and my bet is that parents will like that even less…

        it’s a no-win – and the critics are in their face 24/7…

        • I’ve been writing about COVID-19 since March 11. Coming up on four months ago. And I’m just an unpaid, part time blog writer. This isn’t a new issue for Fall 2020 like it was in early Spring 2020. What about the full time people paid to run our schools? I assume every school district knew it would need a plan for Fall 2020. Yet, it’s July 8 and they are still proposing possibilities and arguing with the unions. This delay represents a total disrespect for parents, especially parents who cannot work from home (i.e. often less wealthy parents).

          • no. There is a LOT we simply do not know about the virus and still more we still don’t know.

            You might be able to claim some of them who did nothing were bad if a bunch of others did something but the fact that most all school systems are still struggling leaves you with two options :

            1. – they’re all slugs and failed to do their job
            2. – the problem is still not easily solved and is affection most school systems

            I know it’s trendy now days to conclude that our institutions are failing us… but it’s a false narrative.

            If it were really true, the non-public, private schools would be cleaning the public schools clocks… and that’s not happening as far as I can tell.

            Too many people are on the “government has failed us” kick these days… even before COVID19. I just don’t buy it.

            Government is not bulletproof. It basically is run by the same humans that run corporations, and they have problems also. It’s the nature of the beast. We’re just living in an instant gratification world these days.. If we can get something from Amazon in 2 days, why can’t schools re-open fully?

  4. Interview this AM with Hazeltine, MD, Harvard. He dropped a few details that I had not heard before. ~ 15% of COV2 survivors never developed antibodies, and some other % have no detectable antibodies after some number of weeks.

    Basically, he suggested it’s here to stay. I think this also impacts the efficacy of any vaccine.

    Well, doggies. A new game every day.

  5. BTW, the CDC, and probably most responsible sources, are not saying that children are at low risk, just that they are not at greater risk, compared to adults at contracting Covid.

    By the time school starts, Arizona or Texas will go critical mass. Infections will cross the 100,000 per day.

    • Maybe so but the number of deaths continues to fall …

      More cases, fewer deaths.

      In 2016 an average of 102 people died each day in the US from injuries sustained in automobile accidents. That’s considerably lower than the COVID-19 death rate but far from a negligible number. We certainly could reduce the automobile death rate by lowering the national speed limit to 15mph but nobody seriously suggests that be done. There has to be a balance between risk and continuing everyday life.

      It seems to me that we are following the right approach. Use actual deaths and hospital utilization as the key indicators and continually adjust the severity of society closings to slow the spread so that the health care system does not get overwhelmed. In addition, continue to protect the most vulnerable members of society by isolating them from risk.

      I also agree that this virus isn’t going anywhere. Melbourne, Australia has people stripping the supermarket shelves as the government begins to put that country’s second largest city back into lockdown. China has part of Beijing in lockdown.

      • If the only choice was either 15 mph or 65 mph – you’d be correct but that’s not the case.

        We have yield signs, stop signs, stop lights, and a lot of different speed limits and other rules that contribute to less accidents.

        It’s just not and never was an all or nothing proposition.

        It’s not keep the schools close or open them all back up the way they were.

        That’s the false choice that’s being promoted and the simple reality is that we cannot open up the way it was before – no matter how many people refuse to deal with the reality.

        The death thing is curious. If a bunch of young folks get the virus but won’t die – then why are Governors in GOP states closing bars and restaurants, etc?

        Why not just re-open and let everyone gets the virus, get over it and just keep going?

        Are the GOP governors , timid Dems in disguise?


        • Neither is COVID-19 shutdowns vs the economy an all or nothing proposition.

          I assume the GOP governors are concerned about overwhelming the health care system. If that happened the death rate could rise.

          In Virginia we are not threatened by overwhelming the healthcare system and COVID-19 deaths average about 20 per day. That’s where we are. So, how should the schools reopen? Time for the school boards to start making decisions. Obviously, if the situation changes substantially in either direction (worse or better) adjustments will need to be made. But the right answer for students and parents is to assume the situation we are in right now will not materially change over the next seven weeks and make decisions.

          Finally, a word on “equity”. Let’s stipulate that virtual education in K-12 is massively inferior to in-person learning. Who suffers the biggest letdown from virtual learning? Wealthy kids where only one parent works or where both work from home. Where high powered WiFi attached to high bandwidth cable connects top of the line Macs to the internet? Or, working class or poor kids where only one parent is at home and has to go work at as a health care assistant every day while the kid tries to get online with a second-rate computer attached to the internet over a spotty network connection?

          Now, there are four alternatives …

          1. Fully reopen for in-person learning.
          2. Work in shifts with students in-person two days a week.
          3. Full virtual.
          4. Close the schools and start up again in Fall 2021.

          Here’s how I’d rank them in terms of equity …

          1. Fully reopen for in-person learning
          2. Work in shifts with students in-person two days a week
          3. Close the schools and start up again in Fall 2021
          4. Full virtual

          Your thoughts?

          • Most of the school systems are talking “hybrid” and prioritizing in-person for k-3 and kids with needs and they’re still taking enormous heat from the “open up the way we were or else” folks.

            re: ” Let’s stipulate that virtual education in K-12 is massively inferior to in-person learning. ”

            not true. It works just fine for a lot of people. The problem is that it’s not the PREFERRED option for k-12.

            It’s not something that they’ve been doing well all along. It’s a learning process… that has merit – but need more work – but throwing it away is dumb – twice dumb, because it DOES WORK for some kids for some topics and right now, it still has to be some option if in-person is not possible all the time.

            We’re a bunch of spoiled kids these days. We want what we want and if we don’t get it we pitch a fit.

            The real world is on us right now – we can’t get what we want 100%. We must adjust and adapt and the less yappers the better.

            For those who can’t or won’t give up – go form some private schools and be done with it – that’s what some have been aggravating for years anyhow.

            Just do it.

            The remaining adults will figure out something that works with a whole lot less bitching and complaining from the brats.

    • Wow! I like Nancy’s “parsing” skills! Let’s stop referring to people as “low income” and start calling them “not at greater income”.

      • There are formal definitions for income levels, poverty levels and there are different nomenclatures like disadvantaged and at-risk but typically they center around the kids that are eligible for free and reduced lunches and the two are distinct categories with the “reduced” based on income levels, i.e. means-tested.

        In addition, they do also try to determine mom/dads education level.

        there is a high correlation between low education levels and low income levels. Kids of these parents usually have issues that show up in academic performance.

      • “Based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. ”

        People, e.g., Kerry, have been saying “given that children are basically at low risk from Covid-19 and research shows they aren’t spreaders, either,”

        They are at low risk of being sickened by the virus. That’s based on the low rates of hospitalization, and reporting of those under 18. But, one has to remember that schools were closed quickly, which drastically reduced children’s contacts.

        As for evidence they are not “spreaders”, it’s all anecdotal. Unless someone can point to some serious research, and not just some French kid in the Alps….

  6. Ahhh! The daily northam rage.

    • It would be less of an eye-roller if just once she were to include a description of the lovely meals she had at a restaurant or two now that they’re open.

  7. So let me ask. If someone brought you a piece of clothing that someone with COVID19 had been handling, would you put it on?

    What about a piece of clothing on a kid put on by a mom with COVID19 and sent to school?

    How much experience do we have with this scenario?

    • Why, Larry? Do you think a mother with Cov would spit on her kid’s clothes? One would hope the mother is using a mask or has someone else caring for the child.

      CDC: “The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person. Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

      • Carol – I don’t think any mother would do any of that on purpose but they might be asymptomatic … sneeze or otherwise spread it including
        on their kids ….

        Right now, we have very little real data on kids in congregate settings with adults… we’re still learning… it’s a risk… and yet people are saying “do it” – the same way they were saying “open up the economy” – and now look…

        people are not being responsible. They are mad and frustrated and they don’t care if someone else gets COVID19… too bad… but open up the schools.

        Teachers are not having it and neither are some parents.

        I think if push comes to shove and a teacher is told they will be fired if they do not report – most will report – but if they get infected – there’s going to be fallout – both with the teacher – and with the school that may have to totally close down again.

        Is what we are doing now – smart or is it desperation?

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    One silver lining will be fewer teachers getting in trouble for showing up to work intoxicated and doing all the other naughty things that land so many mug shots in the news.

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