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AG Herring defeats challenge to historic anti-discrimination law

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RICHMOND (March 31, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has successfully defeated a challenge to the historic Virginia Values Act in the Eastern District of Virginia against an attack seeking to block the legislation. Judge Hilton granted Attorney General Herring’s motion to dismiss in Updegrove v. Herring.

“When the Commonwealth passed the historic Virginia Values Act, we became the first southern state to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination protections and with this ruling, those important protections will remain in place,” said Attorney General Herring. “Every Virginian deserves to live without fear of being discriminated against because of whom they love, what they look like, where they come from, or how they worship. Discrimination will never be tolerated in the Commonwealth and I will continue to do all I can to defend the Virginia Values Act and protect Virginia’s LGBTQ community.”

As Attorney General Herring explained in his motion to dismiss filed in November, “[t]he Virginia General Assembly…[took]…affirmative steps to guard against discrimination…aiming to foster a more inclusive Commonwealth free from the sort of unequal treatment that has long infected public life.” Attorney General Herring also highlights that, “[t]he expanded legal protections for LGBTQ people in the Virginia Values Act are also consistent with public opinion. According to a survey in 2018, 68% of Virginians ‘support policies that would protect LGBT people from discrimination.’”

Attorney General Herring also explained the importance of the Virginia Values Act in his filing saying, “‘[o]ur society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth’…earlier this year the Commonwealth of Virginia acknowledged that principle by adopting the Virginia Values Act – a law that specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation for the first time in Virginia’s history. The Act also declares that all Virginians have a right to be free from discrimination in public accommodations and that no one may be turned away from a public-facing business on account of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation.” Attorney General Herring adds that, “[t]he General Assembly significantly expanded [its] anti-discrimination protections available under Virginia law by adopting the Virginia Values Act.”


In his motion to dismiss, Attorney General Herring also noted that, even though Congress has passed federal anti-discrimination laws, states are still “at the forefront of the fight against unequal treatment based on immutable characteristics.” He adds that, with the passage of the Virginia Values Act, the General Assembly “significantly expanded the anti-discrimination protections under [the Virginia Human Rights Act]” that “‘safeguard[s] all individuals within the Commonwealth from unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, or disability.’” Attorney General Herring then explains that “[t]he Virginia Human Rights Act (including the Virginia Values Act) is enforced by the Division of Human Rights in the Office of the Attorney General…by intestivat[ing] complaints of unlawful discrimination, mak[ing] determinations about whether there is reasonable cause to believe state or federal laws have been violated, and facilitate[ing] conciliation efforts among the parties to resolve disputes.”

Additionally, in his motion to dismiss, Attorney General Herring detailed the importance of the Virginia Values Act in protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation saying that, “anti-LGBTQ discrimination has long been a feature of American society… Despite progress in recent decades, this discrimination persists. In 2016, a national survey showed that 1 in 4 LGBT people had experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity within the prior year and that 68.5% of those who had experienced discrimination reported that it had ‘at least somewhat negatively affected their psychological well-being.” Attorney General Herring adds that “Virginia’s record is no better. Although the Commonwealth has more than 300,000 LGBT residents, an analysis from January 2030 – before the Virginia Values Act was enacted – concluded that Virginia ranked 24th in the nation in terms of ‘[s]ocial acceptance of LGB people’ and that ‘historical anti-LGBT laws likely have lingering negatives effects on the social climate for LGBT people.’ A study from 2014 that examined the prevalence of discrimination in housing in Richmond showed that opposite-sex couples were treated more favorably than same-sex couples 44% of the time.”

In the filing, Attorney General Herring also argued that “anti-discrimination laws have been adopted and implemented at both the state and federal levels without running afoul of the constitutional guarantee of free speech…the Virginia Values Act prohibits specific discriminatory acts but has nothing to say about any particular message or expression. In other words…the Act regulates conduct, not speech; it does not compel plaintiff to engage in speech with which he disagrees, and its content is neutral.”

Attorney General Herring concluded his motion to dismiss by saying that, “[i]n the Human Rights Act, the General Assembly expressly declared that ‘[i]t is the policy of the Commonwealth to…[s]afeguard all individuals…from unlawful discrimination…in places of public accommodation.’…[if] the Court does not dismiss the complaint, enjoining any part of the public accommodation law while this litigation proceeds would frustrate public policy as adopted by the General Assembly and leave at least some Virginians vulnerable to discrimination.”

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National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims – Sept. 25, 2022

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RICHMOND, Va. – As families, friends, and law enforcement gather this Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, for the National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims, many are hopeful that Virginia’s new Cold Case website will help renew the public’s attention to those cases that remain unsolved. The website, which is available to the public, is a searchable database that features information, photographs, and contact information for unsolved homicides, unidentified persons, and missing person cases that have remained unsolved for at least five years.

The Virginia State Police is required by the Code of Virginia 52-34.16 to host the website for Virginia local and state law enforcement agency participation. Virginia Delegate Danica Roem sponsored the legislation to create the searchable, online database that became law in 2020. The website was initially piloted in June 2022 with a limited number of Virginia State Police “cold cases” featured. Since then, the website has expanded to include 44 unsolved homicides, nine missing persons, and seven unidentified persons with 12 reporting agencies. To date, state police have trained and provided access to upload cases to the website to 19 local police and sheriff’s offices across the Commonwealth.

“There really is no such thing as a ‘cold’ case,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “That moniker is misleading because no matter how many years have passed that a homicide, missing person investigation, or unidentified person case has gone unresolved, it never truly goes ‘cold.’ Virginia law enforcement agencies continue to pursue unresolved investigations until justice is rendered for the victim and that victim’s family. Unfortunately, some cases simply take longer than others to achieve that end goal of an arrest and closure.”

“Working with state and local police, we have developed a cold case database that is now live here in Virginia to bring justice for those who have been killed, gone missing, or are unidentified,” said Delegate Danica A. Roem, 13th District of the Virginia House of Delegates. “I would implore the public to look at the cold case database at least once to see if you recognize any case on this list. You can visit it at https://coldcase.vsp.virginia.gov/.”


“This website gives every unsolved case worldwide reach, and we are hopeful that it will generate new tips and quality leads for Virginia’s law enforcement agencies to pursue,” said Settle.

 

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Most Virginia schools remain fully accredited despite student testing declines

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Few Virginia schools lost full accreditation from the state this year despite significant learning losses during the pandemic revealed by standardized tests, according to data released on Thursday by the Virginia Department of Education.

Data show that the number of fully accredited schools in Virginia dropped from 92% in 2019-20 to 89% for the 2022-23 school year. The number of unaccredited schools increased from 7% to 10%.

James Lane, former superintendent of public instruction under Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, waived the accreditation ratings for both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years due to the pandemic.

In Virginia’s accreditation system, schools are rated one of three levels: meeting expectations, making sufficient improvements, and below standards. Schools labeled below standards are under review by the Department of Education and must develop a corrective action plan.


Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin said the accreditation results released Thursday do not reflect the “catastrophic learning loss and growing achievement gaps” facing Virginia’s students.

“This broken accountability system fails to provide a clear picture of the academic achievement and progress of our schools to parents, teachers, and local school divisions,” Youngkin said in a statement Thursday evening. “Virginia must have the most transparent and accountable education system in the nation, and these accreditation ratings demonstrate the imperative for change.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow also criticized the effectiveness of the state’s accreditation standards in identifying schools where students are struggling to achieve grade-level proficiency. Education officials have pointed to the lack of in-person learning as the reason for declines in reading, writing, math, science, and history and social sciences achievement revealed in data published last month.

“Accreditation is one of the primary drivers of state interventions and local efforts to improve outcomes for students, and frankly, the school ratings we are releasing today fail to capture the extent of the crisis facing our schools and students,” said Balow.

But James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, criticized Youngkin for what he described as efforts to “politicize” and “discredit” schools to advance his agenda. Fedderman said Virginia’s accreditation system is working and accurately represents “one of the top public education systems in the nation.”

“These results do show that more of our students are in need of additional assistance to reach their potential, and we urge the governor to direct the state board of education and General Assembly to direct their energies into solving these problems, not creating a new evaluation system that rubber stamps his partisan political aims,” said Fedderman.

Balow said state data on school quality and accreditation ratings are “skewed” by factors such as the Board of Education’s changes in 2020-21 reading proficiency standards, which she said concealed the impact of the pandemic and school closures.

“This masks the catastrophic learning losses experienced by our most vulnerable students,” she said.

The Board of Education is reviewing the standards that outline Virginia’s expectations for student learning in K-12 public schools.

Virginia measures student achievement based on standardized test results, as well as achievement gaps among students, dropout rates, absenteeism, and college, career, and civic readiness.

In a report entitled “Failing State, Not ‘Failing Schools’” released this August, the Virginia Education Association said that for schools to meet the state’s accreditation criteria, they need adequate funding, recruitment, and retention.

VEA identified a high concentration of inexperienced teachers at non-accredited schools. Non-accredited schools also had teacher vacancy rates that were twice as high as those in fully accredited schools.

Data on unfilled teacher vacancies for the 2021-22 school year are expected in the fall. Virginia will have data on the unfilled positions for 2022-23 next fall.

VEA said investments into non-accredited schools are needed to support student achievement, such as paying educators and staff competitive wages and providing more aid to high-poverty schools and school support positions.

by Nathaniel Cline, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Repeated fake threats to Roanoke schools and more Va. headlines

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The state Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

 

• A fiery exchange between Virginia Reps. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat, and Bob Good, a Republican, reportedly started during a discussion of suicides by transgender teenagers.—Washington Post

• Gov. Glenn Youngkin told Kansans to “pick up the surf board” and ride the red wave during a campaign appearance for Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.—Kansas City Star

• The city of Roanoke’s school superintendent threatened to cancel extracurricular activities and extend the school year after repeated disruptions due to fake threats. “Apparently, this is a game to some students.”—Roanoke Times


• “Statue debate provokes fiery defense of Confederacy in Va.’s Mathews County.”—Washington Post

• The Prince William County Board of Supervisors is delaying consideration of the controversial Digital Gateway to clear up “confusion” and “misinformation” about the data-center project.—Prince William Times

• Arlington County will consider switching to ranked-choice voting for next year’s local board races.—ARLnow

• Tolling begins Saturday on Northern Virginia’s new I-66 express lanes.—Washington Post

• Officials warned more houses in the Outer Banks could collapse as Hurricane Fiona passes.—Virginian-Pilot

 

by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Virginia-Founded unmanned aircraft systems provider to establish operations in Manassas

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RICHMOND, VA — On September 23, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that RapidFlight, a Virginia-founded integrated designer and manufacturer of unmanned aircraft, will invest $5.5 million to establish operations in the City of Manassas. The company’s 25,000-square-foot facility at 9617 Center Street will house its headquarters and design and production operations. The project will create 119 new jobs.

“Virginia is uniquely positioned to lead the unmanned systems industry, and RapidFlight is on the cutting edge of developments in this innovative technology sector. We look forward to supporting the company’s growth in the City of Manassas,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “Since day one we’ve declared that Virginia is open for business, and businesses such as RapidFlight is a prime example of the success and growth that businesses can achieve in the Commonwealth.”

“RapidFlight’s advances in the unmanned aerospace industry and the creation of 119 jobs of the future deserve recognition, and we are proud of the company’s vision and success,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick. “The ability to recruit top talent is the lifeblood of forward-thinking businesses in the Commonwealth, and we look forward to supporting RapidFlight’s job creation in this next phase of growth.”

“Virginia is an important state, providing unique access to decision-makers, a world-class workforce, unmanned test infrastructure, and an advanced materials industry,” said Jay Gundlach, Ph.D., RapidFlight’s Chief Executive Officer. “Thanks to its central location on the East Coast, we can readily work face-to-face with our government customers while also leveraging Virginia’s Unmanned Systems’ infrastructure to conduct operations and test our systems, rapidly delivering new capabilities to our nation. There is something for everyone in Virginia, whether you love history, exploring nearby parks, or attending a local concert or sporting event. It is a beautiful state to live, work, and raise a family. RapidFlight is proud to be a Virginia company.”


“RapidFlight locating in Manassas further cements our city’s position as a leader in the design and production of unmanned aerial systems,” said City of Manassas Mayor Michelle Davis Younger. “Our skilled workforce, industry-leading companies, and community assets, like the busiest general aviation airport in Virginia, all combine to make Manassas a world-class destination for businesses and residents alike.”

“Manassas is one of the best places to live and work in Virginia,” said Senator Jeremy S. McPike. “I am proud that companies like RapidFlight, who focus on technology and innovation, continue to want to make investments and create jobs here. I join Mayor Davis-Younger and the City Council in welcoming them to Manassas.”

“We are pleased to have RapidFlight invest in our community,” said Delegate Michelle Lopes Maldonado. “This will bring opportunity, jobs, and growth to the City of Manassas and surrounding areas, helping families and communities grow together with local business.”

Assembled by founder Jay Gundlach, Ph.D., in 2021, RapidFlight is an integrated end-to-end unmanned aircraft systems provider. The company prides itself on its ability to aggressively respond to mission requirements and to dramatically reduce the time from concept to mission. RapidFlight’s high-performance systems are designed and engineered to meet the evolving national security and private sector demands of the United States and its allies. The company comprises a world-class team of industry experts with decades of experience developing over 50 unique UAS platforms that operate in today’s global environment. Based on the team’s foresight and knowledge specific to the challenges that face the world today, the culmination of RapidFlight’s unique technological advancements – using Additive Manufacturing (AM), advanced avionics, and propulsion systems – offer unconstrained operational logistics to deliver tomorrow’s solutions today.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the City of Manassas to secure the project for Virginia and will support RapidFlight’s job creation through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP), which provides consultative services and funding to companies creating new jobs to support employee recruitment and training activities. As a business incentive supporting economic development, VJIP reduces the human resource costs of new and expanding companies. VJIP is state-funded, demonstrating Virginia’s commitment to enhancing job opportunities for citizens.

 

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State Superintendent: 2022-2023 ratings show accreditation standards unreliable measure of school performance; Governor responds

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RICHMOND — Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow announced on September 22, 2022, that despite deep learning losses caused by the closure of most schools to in-person instruction from March 2020 to August 2021, the percentage of Virginia’s public schools meeting the state Board of Education’s accreditation standards dropped by only three points compared with pre-pandemic performance.

Eighty-nine percent of schools earned full accreditation for 2022-2023, compared with 92% in 2019-2020, the last year for which the Virginia Department of Education calculated school ratings before the coronavirus pandemic.

“These ratings call into question the effectiveness of our accreditation standards in identifying schools where students are struggling to achieve grade-level proficiency,” Balow said. “The number and percentage of schools earning accreditation is almost as high as three years ago, despite significant declines in achievement on Standards of Learning tests in reading, math and science — especially among minority and economically disadvantaged students. Accreditation is one of the primary drivers of state interventions and local efforts to improve outcomes for students, and frankly, the school ratings we are releasing today fail to capture the extent of the crisis facing our schools and students.”

State School Accreditation Summary


Accreditation Rating Number of Schools Percentage of Schools
2022-2023 2019-2020 2022-2023 2019-2020
Accredited 1,628 1,682 89% 92%
Alternative Accreditation Plan 3 5 <1% <1%
Accredited With Conditions 190 132 10% 7%
New School 9 6 <1% <1%
Total 1,830 1,825 100% 100%

Under the accreditation system adopted by the state Board of Education in 2017 and implemented the following year, schools are evaluated on school quality indicators grouped in three categories: academic achievement, achievement gaps, and student engagement and outcomes. Performance on each indicator is rated at one of the following levels:

• Level 1: Meets or exceeds state standard or sufficient improvement.
• Level 2: Near state standard or sufficient improvement.
• Level 3: Below state standard.

The following tables summarize how Virginia schools performed on each applicable indicator.

 

Academic Achievement Summary

Indicator Schools at Level 1 Schools at Level 2 Schools at Level 3
2022-2023 2019-2020 2022-2023 2019-2020 2022-2023 2019-2020
English 1,705 1,689 63 81 52 49
Mathematics 1,755 1,769 28 23 38 27
Science 1,381 1,649 153 51 235 60

 

Achievement Gaps Summary

Indicator Schools at Level 1 Schools at Level 2 Schools at Level 3
2022-2023 2019-2020 2022-2023 2019-2020 2022-2023 2019-2020
English 1,248 975 477 719 95 125
Mathematics 1,341 1,406 375 352 105 61

Student Engagement and Outcomes Summary

Indicator Schools at Level 1 Schools at Level 2 Schools at Level 3
2022-2023 2019-2020 2022-2023 2019-2020 2022-2023 2019-2020
Chronic Absenteeism 1,195 1,663 505 133 121 23
Dropout Rate 263 256 46 43 21 31
Graduation/Completion 296 302 29 17 4 9

“The school quality indicator data and the overall school ratings are skewed by several factors that obscure the impact of the pandemic and school closures,” Balow said. “For example, in English, lower expectations on the reading tests introduced in 2020-2021 and how growth is factored into accreditation resulted in more schools achieving at Level 1 in English than before the pandemic. This masks the catastrophic learning losses experienced by our most vulnerable students.”

Prior to the pandemic, the number of students statewide who failed an SOL reading test but showed growth — and therefore counted toward their school’s accreditation rating — ranging from 19,000-20,000. With this latest round of accreditation calculations, the number has more than tripled to 61,000.

Similarly, the number of students who failed a math SOL test before the pandemic but showed growth and counted toward their school’s rating was about 20,000. This year the number has quadrupled to more than 88,000.

SOL Assessment Students Showing Growth, Not Proficiency 2018-2019 Students Showing Growth, Not Proficiency 2021-2022
Reading 19,000-20,000 61,000
Math 20,000 88,000

“Teachers and principals are working hard, and this is reflected in the growth we are seeing,” Balow said. “And in commending them for their efforts, I encourage educators in every school — regardless of accreditation rating — to look deeply into their data and chart sure paths to recovery and grade-level proficiency for all of their students.”

The following table illustrates how four schools are rated this year at the same performance level in reading and math under the current accreditation systems despite widely differing percentages of students demonstrating proficiency on state assessments.

c Annual Pass Rate Accreditation Combined Rate Accreditation Performance Level
School A: Math 56% 88% Level 1
School A: Reading 66% 86% Level 1
School B: Math 40% 82% Level 1
School B: Reading 58% 82% Level 1
School C: Math 91% 97% Level 1
School C: Reading 93% 98% Level 1

In addition, 136 schools that otherwise would have been accredited with conditions were automatically granted full accreditation due to waivers mandated by the General Assembly. Legislation approved in 2015 grants three-year waivers from annual review to schools previously accredited for three consecutive years.

Under the Board of Education’s 2017 accreditation standards, schools earn one of the following three accreditation ratings based on performance on school quality indicators, as follows:

• Accredited – Schools with all school quality indicators at either Level 1 or Level 2. In addition, high-performing schools with waivers from annual accreditation authorized by the General Assembly are rated as Accredited.
• Accredited with Conditions – Schools with one or more school quality indicators at Level 3.
• Accreditation Denied – Schools that fail to adopt or fully implement required corrective actions to address Level 3 school quality indicators.

School-by-school accreditation ratings and quality indicator data are available on updated online School Quality Profile reports and the VDOE website.

Governor Glenn Youngkin Statement on the 2022-2023 School Accreditation Ratings

Governor Glenn Youngkin released the following statement after the release of the 2022-2023 school accreditation ratings:

“Today’s accreditation ratings do not reflect catastrophic learning loss and growing achievement gaps facing Virginia’s students. This broken accountability system fails to provide a clear picture of the academic achievement and progress of our schools to parents, teachers, and local school divisions. Virginia must have the most transparent and accountable education system in the nation and these accreditation ratings demonstrate the imperative for change. Secretary Guidera will continue her work with Superintendent Balow and the Board of Education in their efforts to design an accreditation and accountability system that provides clear, actionable, and timely information. I expect the release of our school accreditation ratings next year to provide Virginians an accurate and understandable picture of how well every one of our schools is preparing our students for success in life,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.

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Governor Youngkin’s K-12 digital mapping program supports best in class technology to protect Virginia schools

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On September 22, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced over 1,000 schools and 85 school divisions have participated in the K-12 Digital Mapping Program, originally announced on April 25, 2022. The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety (VCSCS) coordinates this first-in-the-nation, top-down approach to protecting students and staff.

Virginia K–12 public schools that opt into the mapping program must share the digitized maps with local and state first responders to aid the response in the event of an emergency or crisis. Mass casualty events across the nation have underscored the importance of communication and collaboration with first responders before an incident. Accurate floor plans, high-resolution imagery, emergency response pre-planning, and true north gridded overlay in one map will enhance response time and eliminate confusion in multi-agency response.

“Our children’s safety is the utmost priority, and I’m pleased that my administration is taking key steps to enhance school safety. Virginia is the first state in the nation to execute a state initiative to standardize maps for all public schools,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “New Jersey followed our lead by adopting this same approach, and several other states are rushing to address this vital issue as well.”

“The goal is simple. We want to ensure that every public safety professional has access to the most up-to-date facility information in an emergency because every second matters,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Robert Mosier.


“As a parent, former police officer, and legislator, and now director of DCJS, I am honored to support our public schools in this manner,” said Director of the Department of Criminal Justice Services Jackson Miller. “DCJS is committed to strengthening and enhancing the collaboration between schools and first responders.”

Out of the $6.5 million dollars allocated for this unique program, $3,332,000 has been approved for schools to have their schools mapped with Collaborative Response Graphics® (CRGs®) technology. CRGs are simple visual communication and collaboration tools, usable under stress to coordinate emergency responses both outside and inside a building. CRGs enhance response time and improve command and control during an incident.

The Digital Mapping Program for Virginia K–12 Schools will fund up to $3,500 per public school. DCJS staff continues to work with local school divisions to answer questions and facilitate the progress with digital mapping. On August 15, 2022, DCJS staff held a webinar to discuss the digital mapping process. Here is a link to that webinar that details the mapping, application process, and reimbursement procedures: Digital Mapping Webinar

More information about the Digital Mapping Program for Virginia K–12 Schools can be found here.

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