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Just as Fauquier County’s school division was getting its arms around the ramifications of a four-week, coronavirus-inspired school closure, the administration has had to quickly adapt to new disruptions; Gov. Ralph Northam declared March 23 that schools must remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Some of the most urgent questions revolve around graduation (students who were on track to graduate in June will be able to) and how learning will continue among students that don’t have access to internet service and/or computers and tablets. An answer to that second question is a work in progress.

Tara Helkowski, spokeswoman for the school division, said in an email Wednesday morning that school division teams are working to develop an instructional plan based on the new guidelines provided by the Virginia Department of Education

The school division plans to survey families to assess their device and internet connectivity needs. The preliminary plan is to provide supplemental devices and hotspots based on the survey results. “Instructional delivery options will be varied and will also be informed by the survey results,” she said.

Helkowski added, “Along with keeping our kids safe, our priority is to provide students with opportunities to continue to learn and grow. While this is challenging, considering we are no longer face-to-face with our students, it opens up possibilities for us to think differently about teaching and learning. We are grateful that the state has provided us with flexibility in ensuring we meet the needs of all our learners.” 

On the school division’s coronavirus information page, it states, “In the next few days, we will survey families to find out how many of our students do not have access to a device for learning. We will use that information to help us plan for device distribution. Our goal is to have that plan in place by April 9.”

In the case of families that do not have internet access, the page offers, “In the next few days, we will survey families to find out how many of our students do not have internet access at home. We will use that information to help us plan for the distribution and/or positioning of hotspots.”

The page offers a couple of options for internet access in the meantime: Exploring a Comcast Internet Essentials option (for those who are eligible for public assistance programs like the National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, and others), or parking next to a school building to access the FCPS guest network.

Frequently asked questions

The school division is pushing out weekday emails to keep parents and staff up to date on the decisions being made on instruction and other evolving issues. The FAQ page may be found at https://www.fcps1.org/Page/3186.

Here are some of the questions that the school division has provided answers to so far:

Q: Will seniors still graduate?

A: Yes, the state has the authority to waive most of the graduation requirements for our seniors, so that anyone who was a 12th grader and on track to graduate as of March 13, will graduate.

More details can be found in Superintendent's Memo #077-20.

Q: Will students in grades K-11 move on to the next grade?

A: According to the Virginia State Superintendent Dr. James Lane, "We are going to make it as easy as possible for students K-11 to move on to the next grade."

Q: What instructional resources are available now?

A: FCPS instructional staff has provided a wealth of learning resources at this link. Additionally, teachers are providing resources and activities for students to stay connected to their schools and classrooms through communication channels previously established during the school year. We have asked teachers to update their Blackboard pages to provide you with additional supplemental materials.

Q: What is the plan for instruction now that schools are closed for the rest of the academic year?

A: FCPS instructional staff is developing guidelines that will assist in continuing thinking, learning and inquiry for all students. These instructional guidelines will be provided to teachers and school leaders by April 9.  New instruction for students will begin on or about April 14.  

Q: Will AP testing take place?

A: On March 20, the College Board provided an update stating that AP testing will continue but will be offered in an abbreviated, at-home format.  Based on that information, we have determined the following:

  • For the 2019-2020, school year, AP exams will not be required for FCPS students enrolled in an AP course.
  • For the 2019-2020 school year, all FCPS students will receive weight for their AP courses without having to take the associated AP exam.
  • The College Board will be providing resources for students to review for those that still choose to take exams.
  • For FCPS students who choose to take AP Exams, FCPS will pay for those exams.
  • There will be more guidance about AP exams and dual enrollment as we work with our partners.

Q: How will SOL tests for underclassmen be handled this year?

A: Since SOL tests will not be administered this year, students currently enrolled in a course with an end-of-course test will be afforded a locally verified credit.

Q: If a student was failing a course as of March 13, will the student automatically fail the course?

A: No, plans will be made to provide a student who is failing a course with additional learning opportunities to pass the course.  

Q: Will the learning packets/resources provided during the two-week mandatory closure period be graded?

A: No, nor are they required to be completed or turned in.

Q: When will report cards be distributed from schools?

A: Teachers have now finalized grades for the third nine weeks. Once staff can access the school buildings, we will prepare for report card distribution. If possible, we plan to mail report cards by April 13.

Q: Will graduations take place as planned?

A: We are currently discussing options for celebrating our graduates.

Q:Will school board meetings still take place?

A: At this time, yes. However, they will only be viewable to the public via live stream at www.fcps1.org/live.

Q: Will kindergarten registration begin soon?

Yes, the online portion of kindergarten registration will begin in the coming weeks.  We will share more information shortly.

Q: How will you ensure the school buildings stay clean?

A: Once areas of the school building are cleaned, they will be sealed. At that time, staff will have access to the front office and counseling office only. 

Q: How will you provide meals to kids who are in need?

A: Fauquier County Public Schools will provide grab-and-go meals for students from 10:30 a.m. – noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Each day of the program, students will be offered two sacks of food, each containing breakfast and lunch. Full participation in the program will provide students with up to six breakfast and lunch meals per week. Read more details here.

Fauquier FISH’s Weekend Power Pack program will continue providing weekly bags of food to families who find themselves in need. If you are a Weekend Power Pack family that has not been contacted or if you need food assistance, please call FCPS1’s food hotline at 540-422-7110 or email kmcauliffe@fcps1.org. Additional resources for families in need include the Fauquier FISH Food Pantry, Fauquier Community Food Bank and Thrift Store, and Clara’s House Food Pantry.

Q: What happens to the salary/benefits of hourly employees in the event of an extended closure?

A: They will still get paid, just like they would if we were out of school for snow.

Q: What are work expectations for instructional staff?

A: Staff should continue checking email throughout this shutdown.  Staff should expect to receive guidelines related to the continuity of learning by April 9.

Reach Robin Earl at rearl@fauquier.com

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