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Linda Estrada-Aval waited to enter her classroom on Sept. 4, the first day of school, at Cool Springs Elementary School in Petersburg. According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 1 in 5 public school teachers nationwide are nonwhite, while half of students are nonwhite.

Students who were on track to advance to their next grade before Gov. Ralph Northam ordered schools to close starting March 16 will be able to despite the closures extending through the end of the academic year.

Flexibility granted by the Virginia Department of Education allows local school districts to decide if students will continue to the next grade once schools reopen, with the state agency looking to lessen the burden students and families are already facing with schools shuttered for months.

The department is trying to “minimize the disruption to all students from this extraordinary situation, whether we’re talking about our 2020 graduates or students who are looking to advance to the next grade,” spokesman Charles Pyle said Wednesday.

“[Decisions about promotion and retention] are local matters and we’re trying to provide guidance and options that will work for a number of school divisions.”

The clarification is the latest shoe to drop after Northam said Monday that he was extending his school closure order, originally set to expire Friday, through the rest of the school year. The move, which only one other state — Kansas — has done, prompted many questions about seemingly basic questions during a normal school year: Will students move on to their next grade? Will seniors be able to graduate? Will staff be paid?

Guidance released by the state Education Department after Northam’s decision allows local school systems to waive graduation requirements so seniors in line to graduate can still get a diploma. It also encourages districts to offer distance learning and gives school systems the flexibility to offer summer school to students who couldn’t receive teaching during the closure, adjusting the current school calendar or the 2020-21 school calendar, or incorporating lessons students would have learned this year into next year’s schedule.

The guidance also recommends against grading any work done by students while schools are closed.

Local school districts are in the midst of crafting plans to educate students now that there’s some certainty over the future of this school year.

“We will need to provide a plan for how students will learn the content they would have otherwise been exposed to this spring,” Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said Tuesday.

Kamras said his administration will present recommendations on how to fill the gap to the city School Board “soon.”

RPS and other local school systems are paying employees throughout the closure.

“We do not want any RPS employee to experience financial hardship as a result of the closure,” the city school district said.

Henrico County Public Schools also is paying its staff, including part-time and temporary employees, spokesman Andy Jenks said Wednesday.

“Henrico believes strongly in doing everything possible to take care of its employees, not only when times are good, but also when there’s great uncertainty,” Jenks said. “It’s important to us that we show the kind of dedication to our employees as they show to our students, families, and one another all throughout the year.”

Hanover County Public Schools spokesman Chris Whitley said employees under contract or those who have received a written offer for a job will be paid throughout the duration of the closure.

“When the health risk subsides, employees will be expected to return to their worksites for professional development, other assignments, and preparation for next school year,” Whitley said.

A spokesman for Chesterfield County Public Schools did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

State Government Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers Virginia politics and policy. He previously covered education. A northern New York native and Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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