Stafford schools leaders address county, vow to hold high school graduation — somehow

Superintendent Scott Kizner and School Board Chair Holly Hazard address the county for the first time since Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on March 23 ordered schools closed for the remainder of the academic year.

Sitting six feet apart in an empty board chamber, Superintendent Scott Kizner and School Board Chair Holly Hazard broadcasted to a thousand concerned parents, students, staff, and community members viewing from a distance, behind the safety of their screens, about the impacts of the coronavirus on the Stafford County Public School System.

The large takeaway — nothing is certain.

All Virginia schools will be closed through the end of the academic school year, Governor Ralph Northam announced on March 23.

Students who were on track to graduate will graduate as if March 12 was the last day of the school year. For students who may be missing credits needed for graduation, accommodations will be made to ensure that they can “complete what needs to be completed,” according to Kizner.

No final decision has been made yet for the graduation ceremony itself, originally scheduled for May 30.

“I want to be honest that if [the graduation ceremony] is unable to happen because of restrictions that are set forth by the governor, CDC, or even our local best decisions, we will still find another way to help our high school seniors celebrate their great accomplishment,” Kizner said.

Additionally, all end of year SOL tests and IB exams have been canceled and won’t be rescheduled. AP exams will still be administered in an online 45-minute free-response format. There will be no multiple-choice section.

As for online schooling, Kizner directed that teachers will start preparing materials for at-home learning activities this week and next. Both staff and students were off for spring break March 13-20.

“I do have concerns about asking children to learn something new when there’s not a licensed teacher to be there and help them understand it in a way that the student will grasp it and be successful,” Kizner said.

It remains unclear how online learning will be implemented and to what extent teachers are allowed to give assignments to students.

“I feel very strongly not to put additional burden or stress on children because of this ever-changing public health crisis,” Kizner said.

Around 500 Stafford families responded to a poll sent out by the county school division and indicated that they don’t have access to either a computer or internet for online learning. For these families, Chromebooks, hotspots, and/or paper copies of the work will be provided, according to Kizner.

Kizner also mentioned the possibility of offering a program in June and July for students who need additional support or want to accelerate their learning.

As for Kindergarten registration, it is being put on hold for now as the registration normally occurs face-to-face. The county will release modified registration forms at a later, unspecified date.

Despite school closures, the bagged meal service that the county is providing for student lunches and breakfasts will still be continued.

Families can get these “grab and go” curbside lunches from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at Widewater, Kate Waller Barrett, Falmouth, Rocky Run, and the North Star Early Childhood Education Center.

Parents were allowed into school buildings under nurse supervision on March 24 from 1 to 3 p.m. to pick up any medications that their child may have left in the building. There will be other times when the medication will be distributed that will be announced at a later point.

Additionally, for general belongings that students may have left behind, Kizner has indicated that he will start planning for retrieving these items when it is deemed safe and more than 10 people can congregate in a space.

Kizner will be providing weekly updates to parents and staff as more information is available.

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