Just like other Virginians, Culpeper County Public Schools officials are being challenged by the breakneck pace of coronavirus news, especially as it affects their students.

Providing meals

Right now, the district’s focus is on continuing to feed students on weekdays, since more than half the county’s students depend on the district for two meals a day, qualifying for free or reduced-price food programs.

Culpeper County will continue providing meals for students while schools are closed due to the coronavirus threat. Last week, school staff quickly organized and deployed to create and staff a drive-through food-service program at three local elementary schools, Pearl Sample, Sycamore Park and Emerald Hill.

On Friday, the school division said beginning Monday, March 23, those who take advantage of the meal service will receive their breakfast for the following day along with their lunch, which will be distributed from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on weekdays, eliminating the need for two pick-up times.

This change will also apply to Culpeper Human Services’ Galbreath-Marshall location.

Student instruction

Working remotely while Virginia’s schools are closed, Culpeper teachers continue to educate their students if they have internet access.

And administrators are looking ahead to testing and high school graduations, wondering how current events—and state policy—will shake out.

“Anything is possible at this point,” Rob Hauman, the school division’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, said in an interview Friday. “We’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

The situation is changing hour by hour, so the district is keeping parents updated by a constantly revised Frequently Asked Questions page on its website, via social media and occasional emails and robocalls, Hauman said.

Twice a week, all of Virginia’s school superintendents participate in a conference call with Dr. James F. Lane, the superintendent of public instruction, asking him questions and receiving fresh guidance.

On Friday’s call, they discussed whether Virginia will grant waivers of requirements for Standards of Learning tests and normal graduation requirements, Hauman said.

The State Board of Education and Virginia General Assembly will have to take the next steps, he said. On those issues, the state superintendent’s office can’t act on its own.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said the federal government will let states waive its requirements for standardized testing, enabling Virginia to cancel SOL tests.

Virginia is hardly alone. Most states have shuttered their schools to slow the spread of the coronavirus, affecting the vast majority of the nation’s K-12 students. At least 114,000 public and private schools, Education Week reports.

The good news, Hauman said, is that most Culpeper students had received most of the year’s educational content when Gov. Ralph Northam announced he was closing the state’s public schools.

Culpeper public schools had just completed their nine-week grading period, though they didn’t get the chance to give out report cards, he said.

Will schools open again?

Now, local officials’ big focus is on what will happen after Friday, March 27. Will Virginia schools stay closed for longer? Or will they not reopen to students this school year, at all?

Hauman said he anticipates the state’s schools closure will probably last longer than two weeks, based on following the news. “It sounds like it will last longer than first anticipated,” he said.

So, Culpeper school officials are starting to concentrate on what a longer closure would mean for seniors, Hauman said. If schools stay closed, the county would have to submit federal waivers for attendance requirements, he said.

And what about graduation? If the nationwide ban on large gatherings continues, ceremonies might have to be postponed.

Regardless, “we want to make sure seniors have every opportunity to receive their high school diplomas,” Hauman said. “We would find every possible way to get diplomas to graduating seniors.”

He said he imagines that once the spread of the coronavirus subsides, and depending on the state of the nation’s economy, many students may immediately need to find jobs to support their families.

“They may never come back to finish school,” he said.

On Friday, the organization that oversees the Advanced Placement program canceled its traditional, face-to-face AP testing this year because of the viral crisis.

The College Board replaced its usual exams, offer students the ability to earn college credit while in high school, with shorter online versions that can be taken in 45 minutes at home. Ordinarily, AP tests occur in May.

Child care for essential personnel

Meanwhile, the school division has partnered with Culpeper Human Services to help critical infrastructure agencies and Culpeper organizations by providing day care for children ages 4-12 of essential personnel—nurses, doctors, emergency medical technicians, and first responders.

That is happening from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays at Farmington Elementary School, and started on Wednesday.

Breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack are being provided to those workers’ children at no cost. Nurses are on site to screen children, and adults, for any symptoms of illness prior to letting them into the building.

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