All of Alabama’s public schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year and state officials will soon be rolling out plans for students to receive instruction in their homes beginning April 6.
Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey closed K-12 public schools around the state for two and a half weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with hopes of having students return after the break. However, with cases in Alabama trending upward daily, Ivey said she and State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey made the difficult choice to keep Alabama’s students home for the rest of the school year.
“Nothing can replace the interaction between a teacher and students in a classroom setting. However, access to high-quality instruction is crucial for our students to maintain their competitive edge academically,” Ivey said. “Certainly, we’ll be dealing with the fallout of COVID-19 in our health and economy, but the one thing we want to prevent is a slide in our students’ educational achievement.”
Alabama has never closed this many schools for this length before, but Mackey said the health crisis posed by COVID-19 is unprecedented as well. While some school systems have the platform to deliver online classes and several already have virtual academies, Mackey acknowledged Alabama has unequal access to broadband internet that can vary from county to county and family to family.
Over the next week and a half, Mackey said the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) will be working with superintendents from school systems throughout the state individually to make sure there’s a plan in place that works for every district, every school and every child at home.
He said ALSDE is willing to be as flexible as possible so districts can tailor their approach to the specific needs in their schools and communities. He said outside agencies are also willing to help make sure students have access to quality instruction and enrichment in their homes over the next several weeks.
“We’re going to be able to offer online learning through our distance learning platform, but also take-home packets and some other resources as well,” he said. “The Alabama Public Library System has enhanced the hours of its Homework Hotline and has over 3,000 people manning phone lines ready to help students and parents. Alabama Public Television has also stepped up and they’re going to be broadcasting courses at different times during the day, which can get into more homes than the internet.”
Federal education officials have already granted a waiver for all states’ required standardized testing, which would have usually been conducted in April. Alabama has seen a rollercoaster of changing tests over the past five years and was set to unveil a new test developed to its own standards next month. Mackey said things are still on schedule to use that new exam for the 2020-2021 school year.
Up until this point, work that public school students have done at home has been optional but strongly encouraged, but that will change when local systems debut their at-home instructional plans on April 6.
Mobile County Schools Superintendent Chresal Threadgill told teachers and parents this afternoon that next week will still be honored as spring break for local teachers and students and encouraged teachers to keep their interaction with students limited and not to assign any additional coursework.
“By April 6, even though traditional classes will not be in session, we will have a plan to continue educating our students until we are able to return to the traditional classroom setting,” Threadgill said. “I continue to ask all of our MCPSS parents, students, faculty, staff and students to remain tough and remember that we can withstand all obstacles we face.”
With today’s announcement, Alabama becomes the third state to close all public schools for the remainder of the academic year, though Mackey said the year won’t be formally over until June 5th. Delaying the end of the school year into June, he said, will give instructors a few more days for makeup work.
Unfortunately, the delay also means the spring seasons for all high school sports and extracurricular activities is officially canceled statewide. However, Mackey did say he’s hopeful some events for the Class of 2020 can be held at a later date when statewide public health restrictions have been lifted.
“Graduation ceremonies, proms and the like — we hope those can be done. Though they won’t be done between now and June 5, we hope many of our schools will be able to come back and have those ceremonies maybe later this summer,” Mackey said. “I am truly sorry that these students are losing so many fun activities of their Senior year that they’ve really counted on, but we have to do what is the most important, and that’s protecting the health safety of our communities.”
Ivey also expressed sympathy for the disruption that students, their families and teachers are facing because of COVID-19, but she also emphasized the importance of the steps state officials are taking to limit the spread of the virus that is already claiming lives in Alabama.
“We must be serious about eliminating the threat of this virus. Public health orders are not suggestions, they’ve been put in place to save your life. This is for real, it’s a deadly situation and your attention is important,” Ivey said. “Stay at home if possible… this does mean stay at home and then invite all of your friends over for a visit.”
State Health Officer Scott Harris also offered an update from the Alabama Department of Public Health’s investigation of COVID-19 cases around the state.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 524 confirmed cases statewide and one confirmed death, though Harris said ADPH is investigating other reported deaths. Harris said the patients identified so far have ranged in age from less than 1 and up to 97 years old with the median age being around 47.
“Around three-fourths of those are actually people between 19 and 64, so it appears to be affecting people of many different age ranges,” he said. “This is really a serious illness, and we plead with Alabamians to take this seriously and understand the benefits of social distancing.”
Though she took a strong tone about the threat COVID-19 poses, Ivey maintained she isn’t ready to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order as 21 other states have. However, she did say she would continue to work with Harris and other public health officials to determine the best course of action for the state.
“We’re not New York or California or Louisiana, and right now is not the time to order people to shelter in place,” Ivey said. “We need to keep Alabamians working as much as we can. We’ve got to have our business operating to meet the needs of our teachers and medical professionals and provide food.”
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