Local schools had planned to use Monday to plan for a possible school closure, but Gov. Ralph Northam changed the timeline when he ordered every public school in Virginia to shut down for the next two weeks — a decision that will have wide ramifications throughout the area as thousands of children stay home.
As students left school Friday, many plans were up in the air, such as how online learning would work when access to internet and technology isn’t equal or how the thousands of students who rely on the schools for regular meals will be fed.
Nearly 2,000 Charlottesville students and 4,200 Albemarle County students qualify for free or reduced-priced breakfast and lunch.
More information about plans to deal with the closure are expected Monday. Virginia has been granted a federal waiver from requirements dictating that meals to students must be provided on site.
On Friday, the Virginia Department of Health announced that it had identified 30 positive cases of the virus in the state, almost double from the day before, as the pandemic continues to grow. No local cases have been identified as of press time Friday.
School-based childcare will no longer be provided Monday, and Albemarle County school buildings will be open Monday and Tuesday to staff and families who need to pick up personal belongings or medications. After Tuesday, schools will no longer be accessible to the public, but all non-school offices will remain open and accessible for the duration of the closure.
Ten other states have ordered schools closed for an extended period in time as governments look to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has upended Americans’ lives.
“It has become clear that we are dealing with an unprecedented event,” Louisa County schools Superintendent Doug Straley said in a letter to families.
Straley decided to close Louisa schools for two weeks shortly before Northam’s announcement.
Jonathan Kipnis, a professor at the University of Virginia in the Department of Neuroscience, has two children in Albemarle County schools. He and his wife can work remotely so childcare is covered, he said.
“We are lucky,” he said. “… Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. It’s the right thing to do.”
Kipnis was concerned earlier in the week when his daughter’s band trip to Disney World was still on the calendar but had planned to not let her go. He said he explained to her and her friends what a pandemic is and what’s special about the virus.
“It’s not about us,” he said. “We need to make sure we don’t spread it.”
Charlottesville City Schools said it will have meals program in place for families in need beginning Tuesday. The PB&J Fund and parent-teacher organizations are putting together a lunch delivery for Monday.
Monday will no longer be a work day for county school staff, but Charlottesville teachers who are healthy are expected to show up to work, a city spokeswoman said.
When schools are closed, division staff will use the time for deep-cleaning buildings and to plan for continued learning.
“We are working closely with the Virginia Department of Education to determine the best way to minimize disruption to learning and also to ensure that students in need have access to meals over the closure,” Rosalyn Schmitt, Albemarle County’s chief operating officer, wrote in a letter to families. “We will share more details as those plans evolve.”
State education officials said they will seek to provide each division flexibility to address local needs and to minimize disruptions to instructional time. School systems are required to provide 180 days or 990 hours of instruction.
From Saturday to March 27, all weekend, evening and after-school activities are canceled, as is all community use of Albemarle school facilities. The Charlottesville school division is canceling all facility rentals starting Sunday.
Some private schools in the area are following the state’s lead and shuttering campuses for several weeks, switching learning to online classes.
St. Anne’s-Belfield School announced Friday that students who board at the school will be sent home for the rest of the school year, and all school activities are suspended until April 3.
Additionally, St. Anne’s Headmaster David Lourie said in an email to families that a preschool family is showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, but the family’s physician has not confirmed the diagnosis with testing.
Availability of tests for the virus has been limited, but the federal government moved Friday to speed up the development of more tests.
“We believe this is a prudent measure, allowing us time to assess further the evolution of this illness in our local area, to continue to clean and disinfect our facilities, and to facilitate social distancing after spring break travel,” Lourie wrote.
Starting March 23, the school will implement a distance-learning program for all students. The intervening week will be spent preparing faculty for the transition, Lourie wrote.
The school offers a seven-day boarding for high school students. This school year, 86 students lived on campus and were from Canada, China, Kenya, Korea, the United States and Vietnam, according to the school’s website.
Lourie said the decision to close the school’s dormitory was “heart-wrenching,” but came at the strong recommendation of health professionals. International boarding students will be supported in traveling home for the rest of the school year.
St. Anne’s is on spring break this week. The school will continue to monitor the pandemic and reassess the situation closer to April 3.
“To call this situation and these circumstances unprecedented is a gross understatement,” Lourie wrote.
More information about how St. Anne’s is preparing can be found at stab.org/explore/coronavirus-updates.
The Blue Ridge School in Greene County announced this week that it will be closed until March 29. Students are to remain off campus and will be taking classes online.