A padlock is attached to the fence surround the Cheyenne Central football field and track Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Cheyenne. The Wyoming High School Activities Association has suspended all activities, including spring sports, until at least April 6 due to COVID-19 precautions. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Laramie County’s recent decision to close all K-12 schools amid the rise of the COVID-19 virus has stirred mixed emotions.

“I was a little surprised,” said Susan Davis, who has two children on the autism spectrum enrolled in Laramie County School District 1.

Last Friday, when panic over Wyoming’s first confirmed case rolled into the state, Davis said she was still “hopeful” the schools would remain open.

When Davis heard Sunday that the schools were closing for three weeks, she wasn’t sure what that would look like for her son.

“I am by no means a teacher,” Davis said. “I don’t know how I’m going to go about homeschooling my son. It’s going to affect him more than anything because he’ll be out of his routine.”

Davis’ third-grade son, Scott, is one of about 14% of students who receive some specialized instruction through the district during the school week.

But those students won’t be getting it for the rest of this month because almost every school in the state has shut down until early April in an effort to avoid large crowds of people and stop the spread of the deadly virus.

“When the school district is closed, all services are closed,” said J.P. Denning, director of services for LCSD1.

One of those basic services is food, and both LCSD1 and LCSD2 have already set up programs to ensure students don’t go hungry. Providing special education services is a little murkier.

Denning said during school closures, families with severely disabled students can reach out to the Wyoming Department of Health to access in-home, respite services.

But for students who have milder learning disabilities, these next few weeks are wide open. It’s a time, Denning said, that “parents of students with disabilities could face some challenges,” but he suggested that all families take a look at the instructional materials posted to the district’s website.

Shelley Hamel, chief academic officer for the Wyoming Department of Education, said parents should also reach out to their teachers or school teams for additional guidance during the closures.

The spread of COVID-19 has killed more than 100 people nationwide. As of Tuesday evening, health officials had identified the first two cases in Laramie County, an adult male and an adult female. There were also new cases involving an adult female in Park County, and an adult male and adult female in Sheridan County, bringing the state’s total to 15 cases. The two new Sheridan County cases are close contacts of two previously identified cases from the county, according to a release from the Wyoming Department of Health.

Closing schools in Wyoming followed the lead of numerous other states, but those drastic precautions have raised some questions about how Laramie County’s more than 15,000 students will learn outside of a classroom.

While other schools, districts and entire states have turned to online instruction to fill gaps in instruction, Boyd Brown, superintendent for Laramie County School District 1, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle last week that the district “doesn’t have the infrastructure” to do that.

On Monday, Jon Abrams, superintendent of LCSD2, similarly said that “does not allow for equitable access and experiences for all of our students.”

Both superintendents have said there will be no formal instruction during the school closure, which is expected to last through at least April 6 for LCSD1 and through April 3 for LCSD2.

As of now, LCSD1 does not anticipate making up the missed school days or having to extend the school year. But Brown said it’s not a certainty yet. He’s working on processing a waiver with the state that would allow them to avoid a penalty for missing school days.

Brown said at the school board meeting Monday night that he’s also working on obtaining waivers for advanced placement exams and other standardized tests.

It’s unclear where LCSD2 officials, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, are in that process.

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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