State-Ordered School Closure Leaves Lots of Questions

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday put an end to questions about when classes will resume for the 2019-20 school year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They won’t.

But parents and students aren’t the only ones wondering what happens next. Loudoun’s school administrators also are awaiting formal direction on everything from online learning offerings to standardized testing to how to process—hopefully—graduating seniors. 

They are not questions that only Virginia or Loudoun leaders have, but likely will become a nationwide challenge as more states turn more mandatory social distancing measures. 

Details on how instruction should be conducted over the next several months will be directed by the Department of Education as early as this week, Northam said. On Tuesday, state leaders began laying out the process for ensuring seniors qualify for graduation.

In a video address to parents and students released Monday night, Superintendent Eric Williams stressed the importance of community care and said details on school issues will be coming in the days ahead.

“To me, the concept of community care encompasses the need for all of us to practice physical distancing, quarantine and isolation in accordance with guidance from health officials, while also coming together as a community and creating even more connections during a time of physical separation,” he said. “Social distancing is critically important, but the phrase seems counterintuitive to who we are as a people. We crave social interactions and connections. And so, perhaps we should refer to physical distancing, not social distancing. And let’s focus on community care broadly, not just physical distancing.”

School leaders have posted online resources—at lcps.org/continuityofeducation—as the first step in providing a distance learning program. Starting Monday, Loudoun teachers plan to begin engaging students in learning experiences, primarily using Google Classroom. Elementary school teachers are expected to provide daily learning opportunities of up to 60 or 90 minutes, depending on a student’s grade level. Middle and high school teachers are expected to provide daily learning opportunities of up to 30 minutes per class.

Initially, the lessons were envisioned to focus on the reinforcement of previously taught content with no grades involved. Now that schools are closed for the year, the Virginia Department of Education plans to develop continued instruction and roll it out next month.

“It is my sense that the Virginia Department of Education wants to work toward ensuring that every student that was on track to graduate this year will still do so. And I think consideration is being given to how divisions might award credit to students who are not yet seniors, even in the very likely scenario that standards of learning exams are cancelled this year,” Williams said.

To support the online learning efforts, the schools obtained almost 11,400 additional Chromebooks this week to give to students who have not yet been given a computer to use. Also, 1,500 hotspots were ordered to ensure students have needed connectivity. 

Williams said he and the staff were committed to addressing the needs of seniors.

“As I think back to my own time as a student, and also as a parent and high school principal, I know it’s hard to overstate how important senior year is,” he said. “You have looked forward to this year with great anticipation, and so clearly this information can feel disheartening. I want you to know that I am committed to working with principals, teachers, and others so that we try our best for you as seniors to feel special. You have worked hard to get to your senior year, and we want to develop creative ways to recognize all of your accomplishments and help you celebrate with your family and peers.” 

With the long-term closure in place, most school division employees are working from home and will continue to be paid.

“We know much uncertainty persists, and that it is tough to operate in an environment of ambiguity. We remain committed to providing ongoing updates based on the latest information available. We thank you for your patience and understanding during this time of uncertainty. I wish you and your family well in the days to come,” Williams said. 

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