Wednesday, October 21, 2020

School Health Plan Transparency Bill Signed by Governor Northam

This morning Governor Northam signed a series of billsrelated to COVID-19. Among them was Senate Bill 5083 from Senator Jennifer McClellan. The VEA initiated this legislation and we are grateful to Senator McClellan for carrying the bill for us. We must also mention Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy who filed the identical bill on our behalf in the House, but her bill stalled when it was referred to a committee that never met.

SB5083 requires all public school divisions to make their COVID-19 health and safety plans public and available on their web site in an easy-to-access location. The bill is clear that what is posted should be what was submitted to the VA Department of Education under an order of the VA Health Commissioner. It should not be a few bullets, or a summary. The actual plan needs to be made available. This is a big win for our members as they look for specific information on what their employer will do to keep them safe on the job.

Over the summer, as VEA was engaged on many state-level committees that focused on school reopening, it became clear that while all school divisions would be required to draft and submit a health, safety, and mitigation plan to the VA DOE, there was no requirement that these plans would be made public or easy to access. That is why VEA initiated SB5083. Our members need to know what is in these plans, and now they will be able to access that information.

So what does this mean? SB5083 has an emergency clause, so it is law effective after passage (with a 4/5 majority in both bodies) and the Governor’s signature. School divisions must now all post their plans. Our members should look for these plans, review them, and hold their divisions accountable to the contents of the plans. If there is something in the plan that is not being delivered, members should take that to school leadership and the school board, working with their local Union leaders and UniServ Directors. If there are specific things that should be included in the plan based on CDC recommendations or VA DOE guidance, take that to your school leadership and school board. As decisions are made about returning to in-person instruction, school divisions need to demonstrate their ability to implement five key mitigation strategies.

  1. Consistent and correct use of masks
  2. Social distancing to the largest extent possible
  3.  Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  4. Cleaning and disinfection
  5. Contact tracing in collaboration with local health department

Look for specifics on these items in the plan.

 As we continue to deal with this pandemic, access to information is critical. The passage of SB5083 is am important win for students, educators, communities, and the VEA. We are grateful to Senator McClellan, Governor Northam, and members of the General Assembly for supporting this important piece of legislation.