Friday, October 2, 2020

VEA’s COVID-19 Transparency Bill Passes and Will Make a Difference!

 Today SB5083 took its final step in becoming law, approved by the Senate after earlier unanimous passage in the House. little hurdle in the House, we were able to get a clarifying amendment added to the bill, and the Senate accepted it today.  

The bill, carried by Senator Jennifer McClellan, requires each school board to post—in a publicly accessible and conspicuous location on its website—its plan for mitigating the spread and public health risk of the COVID-19 virus, consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health recommendations. 


Before returning to instruction, each school division was required to develop a COVID-19 health and safety plan and submit it to the Virginia Department of Education. The issue was that there was no requirement to post the plans where any employee or parent could access it. While many school divisions did post the plans, many did not. Now they must. Our bill has an emergency clause which means that plans must be posted as soon as Governor Northam signs the bill, which is expected quickly. 


The VEA is grateful to Senator McClellan for getting this bill through with the votes needed to pass it with the emergency enactment. We are also grateful to Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy who patroned the House version of the bill. Like Senator McClellan, Delegate Carroll Foy chose this bill as one of only three she could submit during the Special Session. We are grateful to her for her willingness to fight for this issue. Unfortunately, the House bill was assigned to the House Education Committee, which never met, so the bill never got out of the gate. We are glad we had a Senate bill as the vehicle.  


So why is this bill important? Because our members will now know what plans their school divisions put in place to keep them and their students safe. Our members can now hold their divisions accountable for the contents of the plan. Also, if there is something that should be in the plan that isn’t there, our members should advocate for revisions.  


Additionally, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Health and Safety Codes Board included school employees in their COVID-19 Safety Standard. School employees are identified as a medium level exposure risk. In the standard they offer the following language:  

A public school division or private school that submits its plans to the Virginia Department of Education to move to Phase II and Phase III that are aligned with CDC guidance for reopening of schools that provide equivalent or greater levels of employee protection than a provision of this standard and who operate in compliance with the public school division’s or private school’s submitted plans shall be considered in compliance with this standard.” 


Without a requirement that these plans are made public, school employees could not be certain what is contained in these plans or if their school is incompliance with the plan as required by the Safety Standard.  


After the governor signs the bill, be sure to visit your school division’s website and read your local plan. Know what is in it and advocate for anything that is not. Contact the VEA if you need any assistance.