Message from Roanoke County School Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely

This letter from Dr. Nicely was published earlier today. We will add updates as they become available now that Governor Northam has closed schools for the remainder of the school year.

Dear Roanoke County students and families:

Over a week ago, schools in Roanoke County and across Virginia were closed in the wake of growing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the preparedness and can-do spirit of so many teachers and staff, Roanoke County Public Schools launched into the first week with a focus on staying connected to our students and families, providing for the continuity of learning as required by the state, and making food available to those students in need. Thank you to the many parents who have reached out to express your appreciation for these efforts by our staff.

The efforts of this past week were a result of our desire to establish lines of communication and to do our best to offer support, not knowing how long the mandated closure would continue. The governor’s order was for schools in Virginia to be closed for two weeks, and we anticipate that the governor will make revised announcements this coming week. At this point, we have not received any advance notice about whether the school closures will be prolonged nor for how long if the closures are extended.

We have, however, received revised guidance from the Virginia Department of Education regarding academic expectations during the mandated school closures and want to share our revised plan with you. As I expressed in the message sent out last week, we also do not want put extra pressure or stress on families about keeping up with schoolwork, nor overload students with too much screen time. Our goal is to strike a balance between providing resources and learning opportunities, having our teachers and counselors provide support, but not penalizing any student or adding undue stress. That overall message remains the same, but I want to provide a few more details that I hope will be helpful.

This sudden transition to providing continuity of learning during a mandated school closure is new to our teachers too. They have done an extraordinary job of reaching out to students and families and providing activities and resources. As is to be expected, teachers are working with families who expect and want a lot of resources for their children and they are working with families who are overwhelmed with the disruptions caused by the pandemic and genuinely do not have any additional capacity to help their children manage schoolwork. Teachers are developing and providing a reservoir of learning resources. We want our students and families, however, to access it as a faucet that can be turned off and on and with control over the flow, rather than feeling like you are drinking from a fire hose.

To that end, we want…

  • to provide suggested activities that will help students retain skills;
    to leverage interactive activities available through online sources;
    to provide equity through paper-based activities for students without internet access;
    to ensure students, parents, and families that they are in control of the flow; all activities for grades K-12 are completely optional and none will be graded (keeping in mind that some high school students may be in dual enrollment courses and, therefore, have assignments to complete for their community college credits); and
    to affirm that we are fortunate to have some technology and other resources available to assist with an event such as this; but we also believe that, for most students, the most productive learning occurs under the guidance of effective teachers in our classrooms and look forward to returning when we are permitted to do so.

We miss our students, and our teachers and staff would like nothing more than to return to normal. Until then, we are here for you and encourage you to contact our teachers, principals, or district administrators if we can answer questions or assist in any way. Please continue visiting the RCPS website for current information. School buildings are currently closed to public access, but staff is available by phone and email. If you are unable to reach someone at your child’s school, you may also call the RCPS Hotline at 562-3791.

Sincerely yours,

Ken Nicely


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