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Superintendent to outline next steps

Teachers in Suffolk Public Schools will be allowed to introduce new material for the final grading period, while high school seniors in good standing will be able to graduate.

Those are two of the updates Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III shared in an interview Thursday. He’ll be revealing more details in an announcement to the Suffolk Public Schools community on Friday.

Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement earlier this week that public and private K-12 schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and having received guidance from the state Department of Education, Gordon said Thursday that the new material would be introduced for the final grading period, which will begin April 20 — the week after what would have been the normal spring break for division students — and go through June 5.

Gordon plans to unveil more details on what will be happening with elementary and secondary students Friday in a video and letter to students and parents.

“We’ve been given some new guidance, which allows, specifically at the secondary level for us, for new materials, for new instruction to occur,” Gordon said. “That’s the information we’re going to be giving to our school community.”

High school seniors who were in good standing and on track to graduate as of March 13 will graduate, Gordon said. That was the last day students were in school before classes were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and will be the cutoff day used for grade point averages and class rankings. He said the division was still trying to determine how to work with seniors who currently fall short of graduation requirements.

“Probably the most communication we’ve received is, ‘Are the kids going to (have graduation), and are they going to have prom?’ Right now, I can’t answer either one of those questions,” Gordon said.

What might those events look like? A virtual ceremony; a delayed, in-person ceremony; a summer prom? Too early to tell, he said.

Gordon plans to get the School Board’s input and votes on some measures during its April 9 meeting based on staff recommendations.

The final grading period will be cut short by a week to allow for the return of Chromebooks, hotspots and other digital devices before the end of the school year.

Teachers will continue to have office hours to offer support to students — one hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon Monday through Thursday, Gordon said.

The school division will also be adding new support systems to help students and staff who may be dealing with anxiety and depression in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gordon expects at least part of the first month of the 2020-2021 school year to be used for enrichment and for covering material that wasn’t able to be covered in the final nine weeks of the current school year. He said it is uncertain whether the division will be able to hold summer school.

Gordon praised the around-the-clock work school division staff has put in, and said the current online learning has gone well.

“I’m asking for everyone to stay both patient and positive,” Gordon said. “I can tell you, we are ahead of some other school divisions in what we’re doing.”