Woodbridge High School senior Vanessa Laumbach is one of 91,500 Prince William County public school students who learned Monday they won’t be returning to in-person classes for the remainder of the academic year.

“I feel like we’ve been cheated out of a significant part of our lives that we'll never get back,” Laumbach said.  

She was looking forward to “creating some final memories,” especially attending prom, during the last few months of her senior year. She didn’t attend last year's prom because her AAU basketball team was in a tournament. 

“To be unable to walk across the stage, especially like this, is unheard of,” Laumbach added. “Though the state of Virginia and the nation’s health and safety is very important, it’s just very unfortunate. I really don't know how to feel right now.”

Prince William County Public Schools officials and the Virginia Department of Education are working on guidelines to ensure high school seniors can graduate based on the work they’ve completed so far. However, all of this spring’s graduation ceremonies have been canceled after Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement Monday regarding school closures for the remainder of the academic year.

In a video message Tuesday, Prince William Superintendent Steve Walts said the third-quarter grading period for all students has been extended, though the exact length hasn’t been released. He added that although students aren’t being assigned required work, they can talk to their teachers about raising their grade. 

Walts said the division’s priorities include keeping students safe and providing breakfast and lunch distribution. He said students and parents can communicate with teachers online. 

The division closed earlier this month for what was expected to be a few weeks break in the face of the growing COVID-19 crisis.   

When it was first announced school was postponed for a few days following release on March 13 and then until April 14, Potomac High School senior Braden Mack remained optimistic that he would still have a final high school baseball season.

“As the time to return was being expanded, that’s what really motivated not only me, but the rest of the team because we knew that putting in the time on a consistent basis, while following all safety regulations established, would make Potomac stand out this year if we were lucky enough to return,” Mack said. 

Mack was initially stunned by Monday’s announcement that the high school spring sports season was cancelled.

“After hearing the news today it was a hard shock at first to think that our chapter of high school won't end that way we imagined,” said Mack, who has signed with Cornell University for baseball. “I think I can speak for most of our players, here, we know it’s not the end of our careers. We’ll have to write our legacies in a more innovative way and keep moving forward together.”

James Lane, the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a news release Tuesday that most high school seniors have already met requirements to earn an advanced studies high school diploma.  Flexibility also is available for seniors who have not met certain requirements, he said.

The Virginia General Assembly would still need to provide a waiver for certain requirements. For instance, some high school seniors may not have completed training in emergency first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to use automated external defibrillators. The General Assembly will meet for its veto session in late April and could consider necessary legislation then.

Instructional options for K-11 students 

The state has reportedly advised all school divisions about different options for required coursework for students in grades K-11, either while schools are closed, over the traditional summer break or during the 2020-21 school year.

“As school divisions review our guidance and plot a course forward that best fits their unique circumstances, they should make sure that every decision is equitable and meets the needs of all learners, including early learners, English learners and students with disabilities,” Lane said in the release. 

Manassas City Public Schools announced that it would establish a distance-learning period from April 20 to May 29, with devices distributed to families that need them.

As of Wednesday, Prince William County Public Schools had not yet released details regarding instruction.

Walts said on March 20 that teachers are allowed to provide instructional online resources to students, but shouldn’t assign any required work or grade any work. 

“Our instructional resources and guidance take into consideration that students may have other responsibilities like providing daycare, caring for sick family members, going to work, or dealing with their own health challenges,” according to the division.

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