Page Schools forming instructional plans for closure; school year effectively ended March 13

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By Randy Arrington

For most purposes, the 2019-2020 school year ended March 13 in Page County.

Page County Public Schools central office posted a several announcements on Tuesday following Monday night’s school board meeting.

The key question for school officials — along with the hundreds of details involved — is how to handle the premature ending of the school year?

“The 2019-20 school year for Page County Public Schools is complete as of Friday, March 13, 2020,” Assistant Superintendent Eric Benson stated. “Students that were in good academic standing at this time will be promoted to the next grade level or sequential course. Teachers will be incorporating the missed learning from spring 2020 into the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.”

Benson also serves as the Director of Instruction, Innovation and Accountability for Page County Public Schools.

The school system was just a few days shy of completing the third quarter. For those students who needed a little more time to bring their grades up to a passing level, a “robust” summer school program is planned.

This especially applies to seniors who needed additional credits to graduate.

“Students who were enrolled in a course for which standard credit is required will be awarded that credit if they were successfully completing the course as of March 13, 2020. For students who were enrolled in a course for which standard credit is required and who were not passing as of March 13, 2020, the school will be contacting you to provide the necessary work to complete to be awarded credit,” Benson stated in a letter directed specifically to the Class of 2020. “It is our goal that every student who was planning to be part of this year’s graduating class has the opportunity to do so.”

Credit requirements for seniors is being relaxed by the state, according to Benson’s letter:

“The Virginia Department of Education has provided as much flexibility as is prudent and allowable by the Code of Virginia for students currently enrolled and graduating with the 2019-20 cohort. The following graduation requirements will be waived base on authority granted to the Superintendent of Public Instruction per Executive Order 53 (2020):

  • Students currently enrolled in a course for which they need a verified credit in order to graduate;
  • Students who have previously been awarded standard credit, but have not earned the associated verified credit;
  • Students who have not completed the student-selected test;
  • Students who are currently enrolled in or have previously completed a course leading to a CTE credential necessary for a Standard Diploma but have not yet earned the credential;
  • Students who have not completed a United States and Virginia history course;
  • Students who have not completed a fine or performing arts or career and technical education course;
  • Students in the second of sequential courses;
  • Students who have not completed an economics and personal finance course.”

For dual enrollment students, Benson stated in the letter that while all high school requirements are fulfilled for these classes, students will need to “finish the LFCC course content and requirements if they would like to receive college credits.”

A different set of instructions goes with each course, depending on when the course was scheduled to end.

And while there may be no prom or spring playoffs, some discussion among school board members and administrators was given to the subject of graduation ceremonies and seniors still trying to get into college.

Page County Public Schools will be establishing a methodology to calculate grades based on the work that has been completed,” Benson’s letter stated. “In addition, we have begun to have discussions on how we will celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2020, if we are permitted to do so.”

Governor Ralph Northam issued a statewide Stay At Home order Monday afternoon around 2 p.m. That sent school officials into a scramble to arrange teleconferencing for Monday night’s school board meeting. With the order extending through June 10, it also puts the hope of graduation ceremonies in question.

Benson told school board members that a summertime graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 was possible — if they used an outdoor venue, like the football fields at each high school.

“Even if we did it in the summer, I think it would be irresponsible to put everyone together in a packed gymnasium,” he said.

On Monday night, Benson initially presented the school board members with four options:

  • Provide instruction during closure;
  • Provide summer instruction;
  • Adjust this year’s calendar;
  • Make adjustments in next year’s calendar.

Benson then noted the obstacles — instruction during closure is made “nearly impossible” due to the lack of internet service for all students; and following this week’s Stay At Home order (extending through June 10), adjusting the current calendar is “no longer on the table.”

Benson then recommended the summer program, especially for seniors who need credits to graduate, and incorporating what was lost this year into next year’s curriculum.

“We asked ourselves…’What is essential? What do students need? What will be required?’” Benson told the school board.

“The decision to end the 2019-20 school year was made after considering the numerous challenges that our students, families and teachers were facing while trying to provide instruction at home during the extended closure,” Benson’s letter stated. “The school division will continue to provide optional educational activities and guidance for families looking to organize a student’s daily schedule to assist with continued thinking, learning and inquiry.”

The school board discussed the possibility of reinstating a pickup/distribution day for students and their parents to get review materials — no “new” material will be distributed — and any items left at school in cubicles and lockers.

Benson stated that he needed to check with state officials to make sure allowing such an event would not violate the governor’s Stay At Home order. The school system has not made a decision on that issue as of Tuesday afternoon. 

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