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

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 13, 2020 | 3:15 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 Prince George Journal has reached out to Prince George County Public Schools for comment on the governor’s decision. Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff shared two letters, one to parents discussing the closure’s impact and their plans and one to staff regarding when they need to report to work starting Monday.

As you are aware, Prince George County Public Schools’ officials have been closely monitoring the evolving circumstances surrounding COVID-19.  We have been in close contact with the Virginia Department of Health officials including the Directorof the Crater Health Department and the nurse responsible for the area of Communicable Disease for our district.  Additionally, we have been collaborating with the Virginia Department of Education, Prince George County Administration, and the Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator.

Prince George County Public Schools has been closely following the guidance of the Crater Health Department and the Centerfor Disease Control (CDC).   The CDC provides recommendations for when closure of schools should be considered.  These include when the division has a case or cases that are school based for cleaning and contact tracing, in response to significant absences of staff or students, or as part of a larger community mitigation strategy for jurisdictions with large scale community transmission significantly impacting health care staffing.

While Prince George County Public Schools has not experienced any identified cases of COVID-19, Governor Northam, as part of a larger community mitigation strategy, has made the determination to close all schools for a minimum of two weeks.  This action has been taken to maintain the health and safety of Virginians and to minimize exposure to COVID-19.

All Prince George County Public Schools will be closed for students from Monday, March 16th, through Friday, March 27th.

Prince George County Public Schools realizes that this decision will place a burden on some of our families, especially those who depend on our school nutrition programs for access to healthy food for their children.  Staff are working to develop a plan to provide meals to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch during this closure. We will send more information to families who need this as soon as possible.

While monitoring this evolving and unprecedented situation, our teachers have already started developing plans forcontinuity of instruction while students are out. More information for accessing these resources will be shared with you soon.

Thank you for your understanding while we work through these difficult times as a community.

A second letter was shared, this one for staff of the school division.

“All faculty and staff including Teachers, Para-educators, Nurses, Food Service, Maintenance, Custodians, and Bus Drivers will need to report to work on Monday and Tuesday.  Please report to work during the hours you would normally report if the students were with us.”

“These days will be used for heavy cleaning, finalizing plans for the continuity of instruction, and meal service.”

“By early next week, we will make determinations for the remainder of next week.”

“Thank you for your assistance as we work through this as a community.”

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
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