Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday ordered the state’s K-12 schools to remain closed for the rest of the school year.
“School closures are necessary to minimize the speed at which COVID-19 spreads and protect the capacity of our health care system,” he said.
Northam previously ordered schools closed for a minimum of two weeks through March 27.
Northam was only the second governor in the U.S. to close schools for the rest of the school year; Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly was the first to make the announcement last week. Earlier Monday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper closed schools until May 15.
The immediate future of student instruction in Virginia was unclear, though Northam said it would be up to local schools to decide how to teach new material.
“We will be issuing guidance on how school divisions should be working with students to ascertain whether they’ve completed the course,” said James Lane, state superintendent of public instruction.
Lane said there were several options, such as extending the next school year and embedding this year’s curriculum next year.
School leaders across the commonwealth, including in the Roanoke and New River valleys, have been preparing for a longer closure. Already, the Virginia Department of Education announced its intention to cancel the Standards of Learning tests, pending approval from the federal government.
Roanoke County School Board members last week discussed the status of the district’s food supply, looking ahead to the long term so they can continue to provide meals. Board members also discussed a draft leave policy for employees.
Roanoke County Superintendent Ken Nicely said “one of the key next steps” will be receiving guidance from the state. Nicely encouraged parents and students to stay informed and reach out with any questions. The district plans to continue meal distribution for as long as it can, he said.
“These are certainly trying and difficult and challenging times, but we teach our students to be resilient and will support them however we can,” Nicely said.
He expressed disappointment for high school seniors, who may not be able to participate in the traditional milestones like prom and graduation. Nicely promised to find creative ways to celebrate the class of 2020, even if it takes place later in the summer. But he will also try to hold off on making a decision for as long as possible, he said.
On Tuesday, the Roanoke School Board planned to meet via teleconference for a specially called meeting to discuss crisis management protocols and a policy surrounding leave during a declared state of emergency.
City schools spokesman Justin McLeod said in a statement that the district planned to communicate more with the community once it received guidance from the state. “Roanoke City Public Schools intends to provide the best possible instruction and ensure that our students have access to meals,” he said.
Salem City Schools spokesman Mike Steven said the district will provide meals as long as possible but will need to reevaluate at the end of the week.
In a statement, Superintendent Alan Seibert said his district’s primary focus was “to provide hope, engagement, a sense of routine, a measure of normalcy, and most importantly connectedness for the students we serve.”
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Miear said in a statement that the district will continue to educate students and serve meals.
“We know that our families have a lot of questions right now,” he said. “We will work throughout the week to answer as many questions as we can. We will continue to communicate with our families often to keep them informed throughout this process.”
Botetourt Public Schools will try to continue providing meals, Superintendent Lisa Chen said in an email.
As of Monday, Chen said the district planned to still have spring break and end instruction May 20, though she said that may change, subject to the school board’s approval. All staff will be paid, she wrote.
Franklin County Public Schools intends to keep serving breakfast and lunch to students through late May, which is when the school year would have ended, said Superintendent Mark Church.
“We’re going to keep doing what we can right now,” Church said. “We may have to make some adjustments in how we do it.”
Households pick up lunches at the middle and elementary schools, and in a few cases receive delivery based on special needs.
The Virginia Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, supports Northam’s decision, said President Jim Livingston.
“Our priority is the health and safety of students, their families, educators and local communities,” Livingston said in a live streamed statement. “That is the basis for every decision we make going forward.”
VEA plans to do Facebook live videos at 3 p.m. every Monday and Friday to keep educators apprised of updates, he said. Livingston directed educators to the VEA’s website for resources.
The extended shutdown through the rest of the academic year raises new questions, such as whether school districts will cancel milestones such as prom and graduation. It’s also unclear whether teachers will be expected to teach new content remotely. So far, instruction has consisted of ungraded review.
Northam pledged to work with local districts so seniors can still graduate.
For high school students taking Advanced Placement courses, the College Board announced a shortened, online test for students who still wish to take the exam. The May 2 SAT has been canceled, the College Board also announced. The April 4 national test date for the ACT has been rescheduled to June 13.
Staff writers Mike Allen and Yann Ranaivo contributed to this report.