Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday ordered all K-12 schools, public and private, to remain closed for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus.
“We are moving into a period of sacrifice,” the governor said in remarks during a 2 p.m. COVID-19 briefing. “We are essentially fighting a biological war in this country,” Northam said later, adding he would do everything in his power to keep Virginians safe.
Culpeper County School Board Chairwoman Michelle North said she was not surprised by the executive order shutting down schools for the rest of the academic year.
“I think it was a very wise decision,” she said.
When schools closed a week ago by order of the governor, there was a lot of difference of opinion about it, North said.
“I felt very strongly that schools needed to be closed because children are harbingers of the virus … getting children out of the mix seemed to be the intelligent thing to do,” she said.
North emphasized learning for the school year is not over.
“The message I really want to get out there is school might not be in the building, but it’s going to be, and it’s going to be accomplished in ways we might not have thought about yet,” she said.
Per the governor’s executive order, the state division of education will be working with local school divisions to establish continuation of education during these unprecedented times.
Northam said local school division leaders would decide how students can learn the information they were meant to learn for the remainder of the school year, but with guidance from the state.
“This afternoon’s announcement by the governor came as quite a surprise,” Rob Hauman, Culpeper County Public Schools’ executive director of curriculum and instruction, said on Monday.
Schools were supposed to end May 27.
“We are now focused on the next steps for our students. Seniors set to graduate in May are our first priority,” Hauman said. “We will take the guidance to be provided by the Virginia Department of Education, check the status of each student and communicate with them accordingly.”
The school system was also surprised by the initial closure, effective last week. Culpeper classes were not in session for a scheduled teacher workday when the announcement was made on March 13. Teachers had spent the day preparing digital lessons in case of a closure. But they never got to hand them out, Hauman said.
“Since that time, many packets have been distributed, and I’ve heard great stories of the work being done online for students,” he said. “Our teachers really do care about their students.”
Hauman remained concerned about the many students living in the country without access to reliable internet: “We are hoping for additional guidance from VDOE about how to best address the issue.”
The issue of childcare during the extended closure will also need to be addressed for many working families. The county is currently providing childcare for essential personnel—doctors, nurses and first responders.
“We need them to take care of all of us, and they cannot do that if they have to stay home with their children,” Hauman said.
Later Monday, Schools Superintendent Tony Brads communicated to parents and staff via a video at https://youtu.be/Y7oznJ72Iok.
More business restrictions as cases spike
Northam said community spread around the state continues. As of Monday, there were 254 positive cases and six deaths. Around 3,700 Virginians have been tested by public and private labs, Northam said.
“These numbers will unfortunately continue to rise. We are in this for months, not weeks,” he said.
Other restrictions put in place, effective at midnight on Tuesday, closed all recreation and entertainment services including bowling alleys, fitness centers, theaters and racetracks.
In addition, personal care services, including barbershops, spas and massage parlors will have to close if they cannot adhere to social distancing, Northam said.
Restaurants can remain open, but only for carryout, curbside pickup or delivery. Nonessential retail shops are also allowed to remain open, but only with 10 or few patrons inside at a time, social distancing in place and increased sanitation procedures, according to the governor’s order.
Essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies health services and those in the supply chain will remain open, but must adhere to social distancing and increased sanitation, Northam said.
Gatherings of 10 or more people are in banned – for at least 30 days, the governor ordered.
North, the Culpeper School Board chair, said it concerned her greatly to see schoolchildren still playing on playgrounds together after schools closed March 13.
“It was almost like it was a snow day,” she said. “The whole purpose was to social distance so the health system is not overrun with patients—they don’t have the capacity to deal with a flu epidemic and this is so much more serious.”
Outside Culpeper Gamestop on Nalles Mill Road on Monday evening, a group of adult males could be heard loudly discussing the future of the video game shop, which remained open, and its potential benefit to parents of the many out-of-school kids. GameStop is now offering contactless delivery service at all of its U.S. locations, according to a business post.
Staff writer Clint Schemmer contributed to this report.