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Update: ‘A period of sacrifice’: Governor orders schools closed for rest of academic year

‘A period of sacrifice’: Governor orders schools closed for rest of academic year

STAFF REPORT

FRANKLIN

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday announced more drastic measures to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia.

Among the announcements was Northam’s decision to keep Virginia schools closed for the remainder of the academic year. On March 13, he had ordered schools to close for two weeks, and Monday was the start of the second week of that.

“We do not make these decisions lightly,” Northam stated. “COVID-19 is serious and we must act. Unfortunately the virus does not respect national borders and state borders; it is everywhere, or it will be soon.”

Northam said the state Department of Education would provide guidance to school divisions on how to move forward, and each school division would have a variety of choices to make based on what would be best in its particular circumstance.

Leaders of two school districts evidently understood the announcement.

Dr. Tamara Sterling, superintendent of Franklin City Public Schools, told The Tidewater News, “The Governor’s decision was made in the best interest of safety and security for all Virginians. While we understand the decision to close the school, we are committed to delivering the best possible educational experience that we can for the students of Franklin City Public Schools.”

Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon, superintendent of Southampton County Public Schools, stated: “… teachers, administrators and staff have been working diligently to provide meals for students and provide a continuum of learning. Our plans and lessons were based on a two-week closure where student work was to revisit learned concepts and skills.

With the announcement … we began transitioning from a short-term closure to developing long-term plans for students and employees. The direction given by the Governor was multi-faceted and school divisions will be receiving guidance from the Virginia Department of Education. We will continue to provide information to parents, students, and staff through multiple communication formats.”

Shannon continued, “While this is a critical time, we will work together to provide our students with a quality educational experience during the closure. The health, safety, and well-being of our community is our first priority. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.

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Northam also announced further restrictions on businesses:

• Recreational and entertainment establishments, as well as personal services like salons and spas that cannot maintain social distancing, must close as of midnight Tuesday, he announced.

• Restaurants must cease any dine-in services they are still doing and provide takeout, curbside service and delivery only.

• Non-essential brick-and-mortar retail establishments must maintain 10 or fewer patrons in the building at a time, maintain social distancing and adhere to stricter sanitation procedures, or they also must close.

• Essential businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to social distancing and increased sanitation.

Northam said additional guidance on the difference between essential and non-essential establishments would be announced later.

“We are moving into a period of sacrifice,” Northam stated. “We all need to take care of each other from afar, because social distancing is the only path forward.”

He called on all Virginians to do their part — stay home except for shopping for essential items and working in essential roles. Wash your hands and practice social distancing when you do have to go out.

“I am calling on you to do just that,” the governor stated. “We must put aside what we want and replace it with what we need. This will change every part of our life and all the daily patterns we’re used to. It will require all of us to live differently.

“We will get through this together. We will win this battle.”

Asked for his reaction to Northam’s announcement, Isle of Wight Academy Headmaster Mark Munford said late Monday afternoon that he was “a little surprised, but not really. We’re still working on options [for how to continue education].” This week was the scheduled spring break for the school, and that gives Munford and other administrators some breathing room to make plans.

He said that IWA is guided by the Virginia Council for Private Education, and added, “We will try to maintain standards of education.”

“We have a good parental base and a great teacher base,” Munford continued. “We’ll figure it out.”

STEPHEN H. COWLES, staff writer, contributed to this article.