While faced with planning for the reopening of schools after a global pandemic, the Virginia Department of Education is advising Franklin County Public Schools to prepare for three possible scenarios.
In what Superintendent Mark Church called “Brady Bunch fashion,” he joined two dozen school principals and division leaders on Facebook and Zoom on Sunday to answer questions for parents regarding at-home instruction, emotional needs of students, high school graduation and other topics.
Parents were given the opportunity to submit questions before the event and more than 600 viewers tuned in to listen and participate in the virtual meeting.
Administrators are preparing for a remedial summer school for students who have not mastered skills in the fourth nine weeks.
At the same time, plans are being made in the case school starts on time in August, as scheduled.
“We are also advised to prepare that we might have a delayed opening,” said Assistant Superintendent Sue Rogers. “We don’t have an answer as to what is going to happen with the (corona) virus and with the social distancing rules, so we’ll be relying on the VDH (Virginia Department of Health), the governor and the DOE to advise us in that area. We will be planning for all three scenarios but, no matter what, we will have to get guidance on social distancing.”
During the forum, Rogers confirmed that schools were officially closed on March 13. From that day until April 14, teachers worked with students and parents online to support students with review of skills already mastered.
On April 14, new instruction started to cover what students needed to know for the fourth nine weeks, in an effort to see which students had mastered those skills.
New assignments will cease on May 8 and all completed work will be due by May 15.
“Teachers have been asked to continue presenting new skills through May 8 so that students master all fourth nine weeks skills,” Rogers said. “School closure will not cause retention. Any student that has been considered for retention should have already been alerted by the school’s principal or teacher. If the student was ready to move on by March 13, they will move on.”
High school students needing to re-take a course would attend summer school sessions from June 29 to July 24, should the school system be allowed to hold the sessions. For kindergarten through eighth grade, sessions would be held July 6 through July 24.
The sessions would run Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We have an awesome teaching staff, but also we have an awesome support staff that have been able to really work hard to make sure we have had the continuity of instruction,” Church said.
Franklin County High School Principal Jon Crutchfield confirmed that a physical graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 is being planned tentatively for summer.
“Graduation is one of the events that we all look forward to and, quite honestly, it’s one of the larger events our county puts on each year,” Crutchfield said. “I think it’s a vital event for our seniors and I truly do believe we owe it to the class of 2020 to provide a graduation ceremony. I don’t know what that will look like, but certainly we’re looking at a summer event.”
Crutchfield added that physical diplomas will be made available on June 1, regardless of whether or not a graduation ceremony is held.
In the way of sports, the Virginia High School League has postponed all spring sports and championships.
“But the door has been left open should the governor reopen the state,” Crutchfield said. “It’s potential that districts could put together some sort of district tournament. It’s all contingent upon when and if the governor lifts the stay-at-home order.”
Crutchfield said he expected talks to start soon, but said there has not yet been public conversation regarding sports.
Many elementary students across the county have already been able to retrieve their personal belongings from their schools, and secondary schools are planning staggered events during the week of May 18.
“Students will be able to retrieve all their personal items, and all materials belonging to the school such as Chromebooks, textbooks and calculators, can be returned at that time,” said Benjamin Franklin Middle School Principal Jami Clements.
The schedule will be posted on the school’s website, on teachers’ Google classrooms and on the Friday message boards, she said.
Principals of all schools are encouraging parents and students to listen and look for announcements, dial-outs, emails and Facebook posts to stay informed on the schedules for picking up personal items and returning items to schools.
The messages will also include information on obtaining yearbooks from each school.
During the forum, FCHS’s school psychologist Christina Gibson encouraged parents and students to reach out for help should signs of depression, stress or anxiety start to present themselves.
“All counselors have office hours or certain times of the day they can be reached by students and parents,” Gibson said. “Some counselors have created websites with social and emotional virtual lessons parents can complete with their students. At the middle and high school level, there is a Google classroom specifically for student services and support that contains several links on managing mental health and stress during this time.”
Food service coordinator Heather Snead added that the school system’s feeding program will continue until May 20.
“We are hoping to extend the program through summer,” Snead said. “But we are still waiting to hear from the DOE and the governor.”
Gateway coordinator Jodie Robinson also confirmed that this year’s summer enrichment camps have been canceled.
“We are going to follow the CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines and the governor’s instructions,” Church said. “Your child’s safety and the safety of our staff is of the utmost importance to us, and we will be following the guidelines should we start back on time in the fall. This is unprecedented and, as educators, we are all new to this. We are so proud of our community, parents, students and teachers for what we’ve been able to do in continuing instruction for our students. No one wanted to end school like this, but we will get through this. We are a strong community. We are Franklin County. We come together and we support each other.”