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UPDATED: Northam cancels rest of school year: 'We're moving into a period of sacrifice'
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UPDATED: Northam cancels rest of school year: 'We're moving into a period of sacrifice'

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Albemarle school bus

DAILY PROGRESS FILE

Students across Virginia will not return to school after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all public and private schools to shut down for the rest of the academic year.

”We are taking additional actions to keep Virginians safe,” Northam said Monday at his daily press briefing. “... We do not make these decisions lightly. COVID-19 is serious, and we must act.”

Virginia is the second state to shut down schools for the rest of the academic year as the global pandemic shows no signs of letting up.

State officials said they will issue guidance Tuesday on how online learning could continue during the closure and how students — such as graduating seniors — will receive credits. Area school districts are awaiting that guidance before making decisions about next steps.

“We want to make sure students who were on track to graduate can do so,” Northam said.

Darah Bonham, principal of Albemarle High School, said on Twitter that the school will continue to work with seniors to wrap up the year and get them a diploma.

“I’m sorry we won’t be able to see you back this year,” he wrote.

Albemarle County soon will share more information about how it plans to meet the instructional needs of every student and ensure universal access to resources, schools Superintendent Matt Haas wrote in a community message Monday.

“As my email inbox and conversations with students, parents, employees and neighbors demonstrate every single day, our schools play a vital role in the life and well-being of our community,” Haas wrote. “That will not change.”

Greene County schools Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh asked for patience from families as division staff members make plans for learning to continue and look at next steps.

“This is disappointing on many levels, but the most important thing right now is that our students, staff, families and community remain safe,” Whitmarsh wrote in a letter to families. “We are disheartened that we will not get to see our students in person each day, but school will continue in a different form while maintaining those connections that were created in our classrooms.”

Nearly every state has temporarily closed schools in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Experts have said a key way to beat the novel coronavirus is through extreme social distancing. To that end, state governments have ordered people to stay at home and closed nonessential businesses.

Northam warned Virginians Sunday that disruptions to everyday life would continue for months, not weeks.

Northam originally ordered schools to close for two weeks, but local school officials already have been planning for a much longer closure.

In the past week, local school districts have moved quickly to provide food to students, roll-out learning resources and needed technology such as Chromebooks, and stay connected with families online using a variety of tools.

The Charlottesville and Albemarle school divisions are not grading assignments or trying yet to teach new lessons online.

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During the initial closure, Charlottesville and Albemarle officials said they were continuing to pay all full-time and part-time regular employees.

Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston said the teachers’ union supports the decision, and that the priority for the organization is the health and safety of students, their families, educators and local communities.

“Even if you saw this coming — some of us did, some of us did not — it still feels like a gut punch and it, in many ways, takes your breath away,” Livingston said on a Facebook Live video after the governor’s announcement Monday.

The school year was supposed to end June 5, and students were wrapping up the third quarter when Northam issued his first order.

“I never could have imagined this,” Haas said in an interview Friday. “It’s hard to grapple with.”

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education said it would waive federal testing requirements, paving the way for the cancellation of spring Standards of Learning exams.

James Lane, the state superintendent of education, said during Monday’s press briefing that his department’s guidance will include a range of options from which local districts can choose. Those options could include extending the school year or embedding instruction into next year’s classes.

VDOE previously advised local districts that all services, programs and activities offered online must be accessible to all students, including those with disabilities, and that the districts should consider how distance learning would affect all student groups.

Before Northam’s latest announcement, Charlottesville schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins wrote in a letter to families over the weekend that division staff members are working to adjust to the new realities brought out by the closure.

“In other words, this is new and complicated, and we will not immediately transform our vibrant schools into fully formed distance-learning counterparts,” she wrote.

The division’s plan for this week was for teachers to reach out to students and find out what additional supports they would need to participate in online learning.

“As we gain confidence online and extend resources as needed, we will ramp up our distance learning offerings,” Atkins wrote. “Along the way, we will make mistakes and learn — exactly what we expect our students to do. Let’s be patient and encouraging with one another — just as we expect of our teachers.”

Albemarle School Board to meet virtually 

After canceling its last monthly business meeting, the Albemarle County School Board will meet virtually on Thursday to discuss a pared-down agenda.

The meeting will be livestreamed at http://streaming.k12albemarle.org/ACPS/player.htm?xml/schoolboard.xml, and not have a public comment session. Northam has prohibited public meetings of more than 10 people at a time.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors held a regular meeting last Wednesday in person and limited sections of Lane Auditorium to 10 seats, which were open to the public.

An opinion from state Attorney General Mark Herring said that Virginia law allows public bodies to conduct meetings electronically if “the purpose of the meeting is to address the emergency,” which includes meeting “to make decisions that must be made immediately and where failure to do so could result in irrevocable public harm.”

The public portion of Thursday’s School Board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Board members will discuss next fiscal year’s budget, overcrowding at Baker-Butler Elementary and how the division is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community members can weigh in on issues involving the school division by emailing schoolboard@k12 albemarle.org.

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