During a press conference March 23, Gov. Ralph Northam said all K-12 schools will remain closed through end of academic year.

“School closures are necessary to minimize the speed at which COVID-19 spreads, and protect the capacity of our healthcare system,” Northam said.

Northam previously ordered schools closed for a minimum of two weeks through March 27.

It’s up to each school division to decide what information students will need to learn to finish out the remainder of year, Northam said.

“By tomorrow, our Department of Education will issue guidance to help school divisions think through those decisions and ensure that every student is served equitably,” he said on Monday. “We are already working on waivers to relieve testing requirements and ensure that our students who were on track to graduate can do so.”

The federal government announced on March 20 that it would grant statewide standardized test waivers, making it possible for the Virginia Department of Education to cancel Standards of Learning testing.

“Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time,” Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, said in a statement. “Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment. Our actions today provide turnkey flexibilities for state and local leaders to focus on the immediate needs of their students and educators without worrying about federal repercussions.”

Franklin County Superintendent Dr. Mark Church said he previously asked teachers to not teach new material during the mandated two-week closure, but now that the closure has extended he is directing teachers to focus on new material.

“Basically, we are going to prep them for the SOLs they aren’t going to take,” Church said. He explained that students will still be expected to know the material next year.

For high school seniors, Church said they are going to assess what students’ needs are to get them graduated. As for the ceremony itself, it doesn’t look good. Graduation was scheduled for May 23, but even at just hosting students would require a gathering of 500-plus. Church said he wasn’t sure about that nor was he certain about summer school programs or even the start of next school year.

“We are in uncharted territory. We don’t know yet what next year will look like,” Church said. “It was discussed (on a call between school superintendents and Northam) that we may bring back students early next year to focus on remediation.”

He added that nothing had been decided, and the COVID-19 pandemic may not even permit that depending on how long it lasts.

As for feeding students, Church said that would continue and cafeteria workers were still making lunches and bus drivers — though not driving school buses — were assisting the district with some deliveries. He said Franklin County Schools served approximately 900 meals during the first week of the school closure.

Church said the cost of feeding students outside of the normal school day has added cost to the district, prompting purchases of bags and containers for the food, as well as coolers to keep some of the food cold as families pick up their meals.

“We are also feeding every student, not just the ones who qualify for free or reduced lunch,” Church said, adding he is hopeful the state will help reimburse at least some of the cost.

The rise in cases via community spread and conversations with other leaders drove Northam’s decision to close schools, as well as non-essential businesses.

All recreation and entertainment facilities such as bowling alleys, indoor shooting ranges, museums, racetracks and movie theaters must close. Personal care services such as beauty salons, barbershops, spas, fitness centers, tanning salons and tattoo shops were also included in the directive to close to the public by midnight Tuesday.

Restaurants may no longer serve people 10 at a time and may only provide meals by carry out, curbside pickup or delivery.

Northam said Monday, non-essential retailers may remain open if they adhere to social distancing and serve no more than 10 people at a time and abide by recommended sanitizing measures.

Essential businesses such as grocery stores, home improvement stores, automotive shops, pet stores, laundry mats, banks and health care services and businesses in the supply chain can remain open with social distancing and additional sanitizing measures.

A list of essential versus non-essential businesses is listed on the state’s website; however, Northam warned, the list may change as needed. The list is available at www.governor.virginia.gov.

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