Northam orders all K-12 schools to close for 2 weeks due to COVID-19

Published 2:56 pm Friday, March 13, 2020

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Friday ordered all K-12 schools in Virginia to close for a minimum of two weeks in response to continued concern and spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. 

In a release sent out Friday, the office of the governor announced that schools will close from Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27, at a minimum. 

The release stressed that localities will maintain authority over specific staffing decisions to ensure students maintain continuity of services and learning while also 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,” Northam was quoted in the release. “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.”

Superintendent of Lunenburg County Public Schools Charles M. Berkley said that he was glad that the governor made the decision to close schools statewide rather than leaving the decision for individual superintendents to make.

“I felt like it needed to come from the state,” Berkley said, “and I also felt like it needed to be somebody in the medical field. I was glad that he went ahead and decided with the increase in the number of cases that have popped up in the state.”

The release added that the Virginia Department of Education officials are working closely with school divisions and the Department of Social Services in order to ensure students who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs are able to access those programs while schools are closed. 

The Department of Education will issue guidance and memos to superintendents across the Commonwealth to provide specifics about the continuity of education, school nutrition and updated public health guidelines, the release included. 

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni was quoted in the release as saying that while officials recognize that the school closure will place a burden on many parents and families, especially those that struggle with access to healthy food for children, it is believed that closing schools across the commonwealth is in the public’s best interest in order to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“Virginia will continue to explore and implement innovative approaches to provide meals to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch during this closure,” Qarni said. 

Dr. James Lane, state superintendent of public instruction, said that the Department of Education is working closely with school divisions in order to help minimize disruptions to instructional time, including encouraging schools to provide educational resources to continue lessons during the closure. 

Northam declared a state of emergency for Virginia on Thursday, which the office says will provide increased flexibility to ease regulatory requirements and procurement rules, continue federal and multi-state coordination and ensure continued access to services to the most vulnerable of Virginia’s population. 

Northam also halted specially-scheduled state events and conferences for 30 days. He also banned out-of-state travel for state employees, with allowances for individuals in border communities. 

COVID-19 concerns have been growing locally after a Longwood University student tested as presumptive positive for the virus Wednesday evening. It was announced Thursday evening that two other students within close contact of the individual that tested positive had been quarantined. Longwood University has cancelled classes for a minimum of one week following the incident. 

The Office of the Governor’s full release can be found here.