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'It’s a huge challenge’: School leaders await more information after announcement of closures

Seniors will graduate, but prom and a graduation ceremony are on hold

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Many educators knew the possibility of canceling the rest of the school year was looming, but like the two-week closure made last week, they didn’t know when the Governor Northam was going to drop the news. He announced Monday schools were closed for the remainder of the year in face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ask any educator and they’ll tell you the school year always brings a surprise or two. But Roanoke County Schools superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely said this year’s is unprecedented.

“We should be prepared for any eventuality, including things that you can’t anticipate,” Nicely said. “It’s a huge challenge, certainly.”

Northam felt closing schools was the best option with COVID-19 showing no signs of slowing down in the Commonwealth.

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

Students are off the hook for standardized testing and most divisions are extending their current closure plan, which in Roanoke County is online learning. Feeding programs will be in place as long i’ts still supported by state leaders. And there is no disagreement at the top.

“He is making the right decision, but that doesn’t mean with it a tremendous number of challenges for educators and for students," Virginia Education Association president Jim Livingston said.

Returning students will find a way to make the work up, but graduating seniors have walked their halls for the last time. Senior year celebrations such as prom and a graduation ceremony are on hold pending how the next two months go.

“That’s probably the piece that really hits the hardest, and really has us concerned about taking care of those kids because they really worked hard for 12, 13 years," Nicely said.

Roanoke County, like other divisions, said they’re waiting on more state guidance on how final grades, testing and other matters will be handled. Northam said graduating seniors will be granted waivers so they graduate on time.

Nicely said the directive under the two-week closure was that distance learning and take home work would not be graded. And he said until he hears otherwise, that’s how it will stay.

“Once we have that, we’ll communicate it out to the public, but we have a good foundation, good infrastructure in place to do what we need to do," Nicely said.

Governor Northam also called upon private childcare companies to find ways to watch kids of essential employees. He added a Yale study shows healthcare workers in Virginia alone have 80,000 children that need supervision.


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