School administrators in Prince George’s County, Maryland, are still waiting to hear from state officials about when — or even if — schools will reopen this year after being ordered earlier this month to close for two weeks to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
But Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson is promising high school seniors that they will have a prom and a graduation ceremony — even if both big events have to be rescheduled far into the future.
“No matter when it has to take place, we will reassure our class of 2020 that they will have an opportunity to participate in this momentous occasion,” Goldson said Monday during a news conference with County Executive Angela Alsobrooks on the county’s ongoing response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Goldson said she made the decision in consultation with the board of education and the county executive. She said she anticipates both prom and graduation dates across the school system’s 30 high schools being postponed.
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As it stands now, the schools across Maryland are set to return to classrooms March 30. However, other school systems in the region have pushed back or canceled classes altogether.
Last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced schools would be closed and students would continue distance learning through at least April 27. And on Monday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced schools would be closed for at least the remainder of the school year.
Goldson said the school system is prepared for either outcome. “We are in here for the long haul … no matter what decision is made,” she said.
“Our buildings and buses have all been cleaned, and they are ready to receive children, once the governor and our state superintendent has deemed it possible for them to return,” Goldson said.
In a letter set to be sent to parents Monday, the school system plans to survey the student population to determine access to technology if long-term distance learning needs to take place. The school system plans to hand out devices to “students in need” and, in some cases, cover the cost of broadband internet access.
Other high school rites of passage — standardized tests — are also being impacted by school closures. Advanced Placement tests that had been scheduled for May will now be replaced with online-only exams.
“This is unfortunate because what they have done is added to the digital divide,” Goldson said, referring to the lack of access to computers and internet at home.
She said the county executive and the director of Prince George’s County public library system have agreed to open a few libraries in the county to provide access for students to take the exams.
The International Baccalaureate, or IB exam, has been canceled, as has the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment, Goldson said. Students who needed to sit for that exam to in order to graduate will no longer need to do so.
Overall, Prince George’s County has recorded a total of 53 positive COVID-19 cases.
Starting Monday, the county workforce has moved to “essential functions” only, Alsobrooks said. In addition to still providing trash and recycling services, public safety agencies, such as police, firefighters and emergency personnel, also remain on the job.
About half of the Prince George’s County government workforce — about 2,000 employees — are teleworking.
Responding to the unprecedented series of steps to curb the spread of the virus, Alsobrooks said: “This virus has changed all of our lives, really, in just a matter of weeks. But what I want you to know, and I want you to hear this so clearly from me: Coronavirus will not have the final say … It’ll take us some time to dig out of this, all of the trouble that it has caused us, but together we will do so. We will come together as a community as we have done.”