Governor directs all Va. school districts to close for at least two weeks

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 13, 2020 | 3:16 p.m.

VIRGINIA – A day after declaring a state of emergency as the number of positive cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19 in Virginia entered the double-digits, Governor Ralph Northam ordered all of the Commonwealth’s school districts close their doors for at least two weeks to help combat further spread of the disease.

In a statement Friday, Governor Northam said schools will be closed across Virginia beginning Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 27, “at a minimum,” leaving localities with authority over specific staffing decisions to ensure students maintain continuity of services or learning while protecting the public health of teachers and staff.

“We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” said Governor Northam. “I recognize this will pose a hardship on many families, but closing our schools for two weeks will not only give our staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities, it will help slow the spread of this virus. This is a fluid and fast-changing situation. We will do everything possible to ensure that students who rely on school nutrition programs continue to have access to meals and that the disruption to academics is as minimal as possible.”

Virginia joins several states in directing school districts to close their doors, with the move impacting hundreds of thousands of students, educators, and other personnel. A day earlier, Richmond City and Henrico County schools had announced they intended to close their schools for two weeks. 

Officials said they understand the possible hardship the two-week closure could have on families, particularly those who receive free-and-reduced lunch where the school-day meals are a pivotal part of the students’ nutrition and will be working to ways to reduce that impact.

“We recognize this decision places burdens on many of our parents and families, especially for those who rely on school nutrition programs for access to healthy food for their children,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni Friday. “However, we believe closing Virginia schools is in the Commonwealth’s best interest as we seek to stop the spread of COVID-19. Virginia will continue to explore and implement innovative approaches to provide meals to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch during this closure.”

School districts are required to achieve a minimum amount of in-school instruction time, with the 180-day or 990 hours requirement set by the state typically serving as the benchmarks calendars are built off of, with time being added into those calendars in the event of inclement weather or other unexpected circumstance that requires a school or district-wide closure. 

State education officials said Friday they are working with school districts to minimize instructional disruptions.

“The Department of Education is working closely with divisions to minimize disruptions to our students’ academic development by encouraging schools to provide students and families with educational resources throughout this time,” Dr. James Lane, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, remarked. “We are committed to help divisions address all the implications of these closures and will seek to provide each division with maximum flexibility to address local needs as they arise, especially as it relates to make-up days.”

The Sussex-Surry Dispatch has reached out to Sussex County & Surry County Public Schools for comment on the governor’s decision. In an automated call, Surry school officials shared the following message was shared with parents.

“While we hope that the Coronavirus does not reach our community, we continue to take the necessary steps to be prepared. We have implemented additional preventative cleaning schedules within our schools and our leadership teams are proactively collaborating on strategies and response plans. As the health and safety of our students are our top priority, we will continue to keep parents, staff, and the community updated.”

“Additional information has been included in a letter that was sent home today with each student.  Please check with your child regarding the letter.”

“Finally, we will be updating our school division’s website and social media with information pertaining to the Coronavirus.”

Dr. Arthur Jarrett, Superintendent of Sussex County Schools described his reaction to the governor’s announcement of closing all Virginia Public K-12 Schools today as being right in alignment with what he had been thinking.

“It had been a very busy day,” Jarrett said, “and we were getting information from different sources. The information kept changing as the situation was so fluid.  So when we got the order from the governor that said to close all schools for two weeks we were very supportive of what he sent out.  Because we were thinking of measures to always protect the best interests of our students and our staff, and what he said was right in alignment with what we already had.  We already had a plan in place to disinfect classrooms, and now the students and staff are all out for two weeks and we are very supportive of that.”

“The governor was in a very difficult place,” he continued, “but, as always, our number one job  – and I never want to lose focus of that – is that all of us collectively and individually make sure we take care of our students and our staff. And so talking in a regional superintendents’ group, in a state superintendents’ group, getting information from the Department of Education and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, we were all on the same page; we have to have a plan, and that plan has to be in the best interests for our locality and our students.”

The number of presumptive or confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Virginia nearly doubled overnight as health officials reported 30 cases of the disease, with ten hospitalizations. 

James City, Fairfax, and Arlington Counties combine for 17 of the 30 confirmed cases, with three cases in Loudoun County. 

From there, the Virginia Department of Health reported a pair of cases in Virginia Beach and Prince William County, and single cases in Fredericksburg, Prince Edward, Hanover, Harrisonburg, and Alexandria.

There have been no fatalities from COVID-19 as of Friday’s reporting from state health officials. 

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.

Information about COVID-19 is being shared as it becomes available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. Also, consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Health has also activated a public information line, 877-ASK-VDH3, for questions from residents about the novel coronavirus situation.

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
Send Us Your News Tips

Leave a Reply