Schools to stay closed for remainder of 2019-20 school year

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

On March 14, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed an order to immediately close all schools from March 16 through April 6 amid the outbreak of COVID-19, but with the continued spread of the novel coronavirus, Ivey announced on Thursday, March 26, that the order will extend through the remainder of the school year.

Starting April 6, Ivey and State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said students will begin online course work through the remainder of the school year and more information on how that will work will become available from local school system superintendents.

“We had hoped we would be able to welcome our students back into the classroom. However, the virus continues to spread,” Ivey said. “Today, I have signed a supplemental state of emergency that would allow Dr. Mackey and his team to provide instruction from home starting April 6 for the remainder of the school year. This decision has not been made lightly. It’s been made with a tremendous amount of concern and discussion.”

With the announcement, Mackey also confirmed that with the closure of school for the rest of the year, the 2020 spring sports season and all extracurricular activities are canceled.

“Unfortunately, for sports, for band, for those things, it means the end for this year,” Mackey said.

Mackey, however, did say that there is still the chance for graduation and prom this summer, but not until at least the end of this school year, which will now be June 5.

“We hope those activities can be done,’ Mackey said. “They won’t be done between now and June 5, but we certainly hope many of our schools will be able to come back as the curve flattens and the public health orders are changed that they’ll be able to come back later this summer.”

With the close of school for in-person education the rest of the year, Mackey said the shift will turn to online education and take home packets starting April 6, but he knows there will be concerns with that.

“We certainly are concerned about that long summer slide, we are concerned about the lack of internet in some homes and we’re concerned about all the things that our parents, teachers and administrators across the state have brought to our attention,” he said.

Mackey said that the state is working diligently with local superintendents to make sure there is a plan in place for every school and every child to continue their learning, close out the school year and graduate the seniors on time.

“By the end of this summer, they’ll be moving on to that next grade or that next step after high school,” Mackey said.

While broadband issues may be a large concern for many that will have to shift to online education for the remainder of the school year, Ivey said they are looking into every option.

“We’re doing all we can to close those gaps and certainly recognize there has to be an alternative method of getting instructional materials to those students who do not have broadband access,” she said. “That is being arranged with your superintendents, getting to the students daily correspondence packages and course work to do at home. Help will be forthcoming”

There is also the question of can schools prepare instruction for students both online and the form of take-home packets in such a short span of time with the scheduled start of April 6.

“We’re giving multiple options to our superintendents that allow them to meet the needs of their students,” Ivey said. “This is the most flexible course of action that we can provide. We know our superintendents are working hard to provide the students the learning materials they need.”

Mackey added that not only will online learning be offered through digital platforms at many schools across the state to close out the school year, but there will also be take-home packets printed out for others.

Other resources will be utilized as well with more than 3,000 people manning the Alabama Public Library System’s homework hotline, which has enhanced its hours for this purpose.

“If they get stumped on answers, they can call that homework hotline. They are there to help parents and students with those questions,” Mackey said.

Mackey said the state was going to be meeting with local superintendents on Friday, March 27, and then check back during the next week to make sure they have the most meticulous plan for their individual community.

While students have missed the last two-and-a-half weeks, Mackey said every school in the state used one of those as spring break so they haven’t missed more than seven days of instruction.

“We’ll make that time up,” he said. “We know how to compress things, put some things aside and focus on the most basic, essential and critical learning standards. We’ve identified for the superintendents, the critical learning standards, reading and math in lower grades and credit bearing courses in those higher grades.”

In addition to the rest of this year, Mackey also addressed the start of next year. Both he and Ivey said its paramount that students don’t have a summer slide, making the instruction remotely through the end of this year and any over the summer important, but they’ll also make sure kids are evaluated early in the 2020-21 school year.

“As much as we know that teachers will be working hard over the next eight weeks to catch students up and get this year complete, we know that the time that they last saw a teacher this year and when they see one in the fall is going to be greater than it has normally been,” Mackey said. “We will assess those students when school starts first day next fall and our teachers will be addressing any learning decencies.”

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Lewis Brooks said he has been working with the school system’s leadership team and instructional staff leaders to determine the next steps for delivering instruction to students at home, but he won’t know more until he meets with Mackey.