Loudoun County Public Schools will be closed through Friday, March 20 in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease.
The surprise announcement followed two public health briefings on COVID-19, Tuesday and Wednesday, during which the prospect of school closures was discussed repeatedly. As late at 6 p.m. Wednesday night, following a briefing before the Board of Supervisors, administrators were planning to keep classes going.
In making the announcement, Superintendent Eric Williams apologized for lack of advanced notice, but said the situation with the coronavirus strain was rapidly changing, including yesterday’s World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration.
“I want to sincerely apologize for send a message for school closure, which was unexpected by many people, on the morning of the closure,” Williams said in a Thursday morning press conference. “However, given the rapidly changing situation with the COVID-19 virus we felt it was the appropriate decision to make.”
“We make this decision out of an abundance of caution. We regret any inconvenience that this caused but we know that it is the right decision,” Williams said.
Over the next week, administrators will be working to ensure the best safety measures are in place and that disinfectant supplies are adequately available to students and staff. Earlier in the week, administrators said they would be developing programs to permit distance learning should extended school closures be required. “We need to take our time to reassess,” Williams said.
He said the school division would be following the CDC recommendations for community where a virus outbreak is present.
In previous public briefings, Loudoun County Health Director David Goodfriend cautioned that canceling classes could increase other threats. He expressed concerns that if children stayed home, many would be in the care of grandparents who are far more vulnerable to the virus. Also, many students depend on schools for their meals. He also noted that canceling classes won’t prevent kids from gathering at coffee shops, malls and movie theaters.
During a Facebook live communication outreach Thursday afternoon, Goodfriend said there wasn’t necessarily a medical reason to close the schools, such has having a confirmed patient had entered a school and requiring disinfectant or if there was a widespread infection with students likely to spread the virus to senior citizens.
“Given how the situation has evolved over the last week—having our first cases, having a pandemic declared by the World Health Organization, having a real more stringent approach starting with President Trump’s call to the nation—my understanding is that they just wanted to make sure they were doing everything right by their students,” Goodfriend said.
Williams said all school activities would be canceled during the break. There could be possible exceptions, such as SATs planned Saturday, if safety concerns could be addressed. Also, the staff is exploring options for providing meal service to students who depend on the schools for breakfast and lunch.
Students will be permitted limited access to school buildings between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday to retrieve books, medicine and personal items.
Also during the break, schools and busses will be getting thorough cleanings, although that might not be necessary with the virus’ maximum life of 2 to 3 days on surfaces.
For the latest school updates, go to the school division’s special COVID-19 webpage.