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UPDATED: Given the rapidly evolving situation with the COVID-19 virus, Fauquier County Public Schools will remain closed through Monday, April 13,  spokeswoman Tara Helkowski said in a press release Wednesday afternoon, March 18.

All school activities are also canceled, she reported. School buildings and administrative offices will remain closed to the public.

“I don’t see a path whereby we open on March 27, so I have recommended to the School Board that we remain closed until April 14 at the earliest,” said Superintendent of Schools David Jeck. “The Surgeon General has recommended a 15-day social distancing period to begin immediately. We have to do all that we can do as a school system and school community to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Helkowski said that the school division encourages community members to stay informed. For the most recent information from FCPS about COVID-19 and its impact on schools, the FAQs page on the division's website may be found at https://www.fcps1.org/domain/1251.

ORIGINAL STORY: When Gov. Ralph Northam ordered Virginia schools closed  and the state superintendent said that he would not mandate that schools institute all-online learning, Fauquier County Superintendent of Schools David Jeck heaved a sigh of relief. “It’s a game changer. Our planning all changed after the waiver came in.” 

State School Superintendent Dr. James Lane announced Friday night he was instituting an attendance waiver. The waiver states that there will be a period of time during which students will not be required to complete distance learning assignments. The state will waive the school hours missed during the governor’s order, covering the closure until at least March 27, or whenever students return to school.   

As a result of the order, any materials that have been sent home are to be considered optional instructional resources, and no schoolwork is to be assigned or graded.  

“It’s only happened one other time since I’ve been in Virginia, during a blizzard in the 1990s,” Jeck said.  

He explained what it means: “when we come back to school (as of now, that would be Monday, March 30), it will be as if we are coming back to school the day after we closed. It will be as if those days never existed. If he hadn’t issued the instructional waiver, we might have had to continue school into July.” 

Jeck said that he and his staff had been struggling with how to provide instruction during the forced closure. Since so many Fauquier children don’t have internet service, computers or tablets, it would not have been practical – or equitable – to offer online instruction in an attempt to keep up with classwork. 

Many Fauquier teachers created learning packets for their students. But now, because of the governor’s waiver, there are no requirements to complete them. They will not be graded. “The situation has changed. This really takes the pressure off of everyone,” said Jeck. 

“Families can still use the schools as a resource they can take advantage of,” he said. “But there will be no expectation that teachers will send work home. We don’t require it.” 

One of the FAQ questions on the school division’s coronavirus website asks: Where can we access additional resources? The answer reads: “Our staff has created  this website  to help our Fauquier County parents and students utilize Blackboard and Google Drive during the extended closing. Blackboard is Fauquier County's learning management system and where teachers are encouraged to share documents and resources. All FCPS students have access to Google Drive using their school Google username and password. The site also shares some  non-technology activities  to use with children.” The site adds, “Please remember that the use of these resources is optional.” 

Jeck said he and his team are still going in to work. Among those still on the job are custodians, administrators, central office staff. “It’s just essential staff,” he said, “like a snow day.” 

He assured that whether they are physically working or not, everyone – except substitute teachers and hourly cafeteria aides – will get paid. “This is an unprecedented situation,” he said. “We are going to make decisions in the best interests of our people, in the best interests of our kids.” 

Nutrition for students 

One of the big questions that remains is how to feed children who were benefiting from free and reduced lunches at school. He said they are working with FISH to continue the backpack program that sends food home with children on weekends and during school holidays. But FISH doesn’t serve every school, he said. 

One idea is to set up stations around the county where families could come and pick up provisions. “Some teachers, God bless them, have already volunteered to deliver meals.” Jeck said they are still working on a plan.  

FAQs 

Jeck said that the school administration is working through questions from parents and employees. “We are updating the FAQ section on the website (https://www.fcps1.org/domain/1251); as we have answers to questions, we will continue to update that section.” 

Jeck said, for instance, that he is waiting to find out what will happen with SOL testing. He said, “Say we wind up missing a month of school. That means kids will come back with just a couple of weeks before the SOLs. It would be unworkable. If they took the tests, they wouldn’t be an accurate test of the students’ learning.” 

Unanswered questions 

There are some questions that can’t be answered yet – questions like “What about prom? And “What happens to spring break?” Those issues will have to wait until there is more information about when schools will reopen. “If a teacher asks if they can come in and take care of their classroom plants, those kinds of questions will be answered on a case-by-case basis,” said Jeck. 

Reach Robin Earl at rearl@fauquier.com 
 

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