Schools across the state have been closed for the remainder of the year due to the coronavirus, ending the seasons for all spring sports and other extracurricular activities.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced during a press conference Thursday afternoon that she had signed a fourth supplementary state of emergency to keep the schools closed and allow State Superintendent Eric Mackey and his team to provide instruction from home starting April 6 through the remainder of the school year.
The governor first announced that schools would be closed March 19 through April 6 with hopes to reopen, but the recent rise in COVID-19 cases wouldn’t allow it.
“This decision has not been made lightly,” Ivey said during the press conference. “It has been made with a tremendous amount of concern and discussion.
“Nothing can replace the interaction between the teacher and the students in the classroom setting,” she continued. “However, access to high quality instruction is crucial for our students to maintain a competitive edge academically.
“Certainly we will be dealing with the fallout from COVID-19 in our health and economy, but the one thing we want to prevent from happening is a tremendous slide in our students’ learning and our students’ achievement.”
With many families without access to broadband internet services, Ivey and Mackey both were adamant in saying they were aware of the issue and several alternative methods were being discussed with local superintendents to get coursework into the hands of students.
“We’re doing all we can to close those gaps,” Ivey said. “That help will be forthcoming.”
Outside of online learning and “old fashioned take-home packets,” Mackey said other resources include the Alabama Public Library System’s homework hotline, which he said had enhanced its hours, and the Alabama Public Television. He said APT would be broadcasting various courses throughout the day.
“What I want to assure our parents, teachers and students out there is that we are working diligently with our local superintendents and their teams to make sure there’s a plan in place for every school,” Mackey said, “for every child to continue their learning, close out their school year and graduate our seniors on time or very close to on time.”
Ivey said the state was also doing everything possible to ensure those with special needs would receive accommodations that are as close to what they would receive during a normal school day.
Mackey said he hoped to see schools be allowed to host graduation ceremonies and proms after the end of the official school year, which was deemed June 5. The date was set to ensure students have the opportunity to get all their work finished on time.
With the decision, Mackey said spring sports and all extracurricular activities would come to an end, effective immediately.
“I truly am sorry … that students are losing so many of the fun activities of their senior year that they really count on, but we just have to do what is the most important and pressing thing, and that’s protecting the health and safety of our community,” Mackey said.
Albertville Superintendent Boyd English was among the first local superintendents to react to the news. He said his district would support its students and place special focus on the senior class.
“We respect the governor’s and state superintendent’s decision understanding that the safety of our children is paramount,” English told The Reporter. “Albertville City Schools [is] prepared to support the Aggie Family during this unprecedented time in public education. Our administration and leadership teams continue to develop short-term and long-term plans for our students.
“Our plans are centered on supporting our graduating seniors as they prepare for college and careers,” he added. “We are also committed to reducing the loss of academic skills due to the extensive closure for students in PreK-11th grade. We are certain that we will overcome this difficult time together as the Aggie Family.”
Boaz Superintendent Todd Haynie echoed similar sentiments, saying while it was a sad to see the year end in this manner, students’ health and safety was most important.
“Although we are extremely saddened by the recent events that have led to the decision to close schools for the remainder of the semester, we understand the seriousness of the effects of this illness sweeping our country,” he said. “The safety and security of our students, faculty and staff are the most important consideration of our organization. Our district leaders have been working diligently on plans to continue the educational process for all of our students. We understand there will be many challenges, but through working together and keeping the best interests of our students as our main priority, we will overcome this adversity.
“After receiving guidance on what is expected from Dr. Mackey and the Alabama State Department of Education, we will continue refining our plans and will make those available as soon as possible,” Haynie continued. “In the meantime, we implore our students and their families to continue adhering to the social guidelines recommended by the Alabama Department of Public Health so we can all get past this as soon as possible.”
Marshall County Schools Superintendent Cindy Wigley said her district would work with Mackey and the state’s leaders to make sure it would also have a solid plan in place moving forward.
“Once information is received, our plan will be updated and the administrative staff of Marshall County Schools will communicate with faculty, parents and guardians on a district plan for moving forward,” Wigley said. “We have been preparing for this event for weeks. Student resources and abilities are a driving force to our plan.
“The health and safety of our students will continue to be our No. 1 priority during this time,” she added. “While classroom learning cannot be fully replicated, our staff is committed to providing the best resources and services possible to help close the gap for all students and prevent as much as possible an increased ‘summer slide’ of proficiency in critical standards.”