This story was updated at 7:15 p.m. April 9, 2020, with more details.
The doors to Missouri's public and charter schools will remain closed, but remote learning should continue as the state continues its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Mike Parson ordered Thursday.
What the order will mean for graduations and summer school is still being determined, but it seems clear from Gov. Mike Parson's words Thursday that most members of the Class of 2020 will probably not be attending a ceremony — at least on the day they expected.
Parson on Thursday announced the state's public and charter schools are to remain closed and to continue remote learning until the dates local school boards have already scheduled as the last day of school.
The measures, which are being taken as part of the state's campaign to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, are an extension of the statewide stay-at-home order. Schools may also continue to offer child care and meals, as outlined in the order, he said.
There are 555 public school districts and charter schools in the state, with a total of almost 915,000 students.
Parson, who said he has a granddaughter in the Class of 2020, took a moment during his daily live-streamed briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic to speak to high school seniors about his order for schools: "For you seniors out there, I understand how disappointing this will be, to not be able to have that graduation ceremony.
"But, let me assure you this. We will work with DESE. We will work with the superintendents across the state to make sure you get the opportunity to walk down that aisle and receive that diploma at some point in the remainder of this year. We will try to make that happen. I know you've worked hard for 12 years, and we want to make sure you have the opportunity to do that."
The fate of graduation ceremonies is one of the questions from school leaders that Margie Vandeven anticipated, as commissioner of DESE — though there were not any immediate answers.
"What should districts do about summer school? What will the re-entry to school look like? How will this impact graduating seniors? What can be done to address the broadband internet issues that we experience across parts of our state? Please know that our department is working quickly to address these and many other questions, in conjunction with the governor's office, continuing our efforts to help our local school leaders navigate this process," Vandeven said.
The statewide stay-at-home order issued April 3 and effective since Monday had extended school closures until at least April 24.
The statewide stay-at-home order had also included that further guidance "related to the conclusion of the 2019-2020 academic school year" would be forthcoming.
"Conversations about school closures and the end of the school year have taken place since then between the governor, DESE and an advisory group of school superintendents from rural, urban and suburban areas across the state," Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for the governor's office, emailed after Thursday's announcement.
"Through those discussions, it became increasingly clear that closing school buildings for the remainder of the locally board-approved calendar was the right decision for the safety of Missouri students and communities and was a decision that needed to be made now," Jones added.
Vandeven said: "We know remote teaching and learning looks different at every district across our state, so we are simply asking our school leaders to continue to be creative, innovative and persistent in their pursuit to reach students with some kind of academic opportunity."
That might mean physically delivering things to students who don't have access to the internet, or using video-conferencing software, she added.
A news release from Parson's office after the announcement Thursday added: "DESE will issue additional guidance to Missouri school leaders in the near future. In conjunction with the governor's office, DESE is continuing efforts to help local school leaders by removing barriers and waiving the necessary state statutes and regulations."
More information is available at dese.mo.gov/COVID19.