State public education officials on Friday announced all schools under the purview of the Public Education Department will remain closed through the end of the school year.
PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said the new measure is “absolutely necessary” to keep students safe and slow the spread of COVID-19 and was always the back-up plan. The decision is in line with CDC guidelines and the state’s mitigation policies, he added.
“We know that we still haven’t reached the peak of this,” he said. “It’s quite clear that it is not yet safe to be able to bring our students back into school and that we still have more to do in order to make sure we can come back.”
The announcement extends the original return date of April 6 through the end of the spring semester, which for most districts goes through the last week of May.
Stewart said teacher pay will not be affected, and in a press release the PED said “School personnel and contractors will remain on call and continue being paid as usual. Districts have already received guidance on activities employees can continue performing during the closure.”
Educators are being asked not to return to their classrooms unless they are retrieving necessary supplies for online instruction, and will need to submit distance learning plans to their district by April 8. Online learning will begin shortly after.
Stewart acknowledged that significant technology gaps exist across the state – for instance, some districts give students laptops to use during the school year while others don’t and some students don’t have reliable or any internet access – and said officials are working to fix that.
“This is not a replacement for school,” he said, adding that districts will be moving to a pass/no credit system in which students work will be “holistically evaluated” to determine whether they have demonstrated competency in the subject. Students will not receive letter grades.
For high school seniors, the closure means missing rites of passage in their high school careers like prom and graduation.
Proms are likely to be rescheduled in the fall, and officials say they are looking into postponing graduations or holding them virtually.
Seniors’ graduation will be determined by competency exams given online, and though he did not list specific changes, Stewart said many colleges and universities would be changing their admissions policies. Those changes should, he said, include standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, which most juniors normally begin studying for and taking in the spring.
Districts are being asked to do everything they can to adapt services for students with special needs, behavioral health needs, and students who are homeless. It’s not yet clear exactly how those services will adapt, but Stewart said Individual Education Plan meetings were still being conducted via Zoom and over the phone.