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Local schools prepare for possibility of coronavirus closings

The pilot program would start this upcoming school year.
The pilot program would start this upcoming school year.(WHSV)
Published: Mar. 10, 2020 at 6:07 PM EDT
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From primary to collegiate level, some schools across the country are closing their doors to prevent any potential spread of the novel coronavirus.

In the past, we've seen schools close because of the flu, but many schools have been planning for the possibility of coronavirus closings, including here in the Shenandoah Valley, where no cases of the virus have yet been confirmed.

Dr. Doug Alderfer, assistant superintendent with Rockingham County Public Schools, said the decision to close their schools would be made in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Education, the local health department, and Rockingham County School Board members.

"This is not a decision that we would ever take lightly," Alderfer said. "It's not a decision that would be made without consultation with many agencies and groups to be sure we were making the right decision for safety, but also for the education needs of our kids."

Alderfer said if there was a recommendation for schools to close, they would implement some contingency plans.

"We have a learning management system that would allow for teachers to still provide some content and instruction to those students," Alderfer said.

Alderfer said students grades six through 12 have school-issued Chromebooks that they can take home on regular days which could be essential in case of a closure.

"We have a good system set up that would put us in place to be able to provide instruction from home," Alderfer said. "For elementary schools, it becomes a little more challenging. For the upper elementary students, we could also probably provide them with technology like Chromebooks."

At this time, teachers are not being asked to prepare online lesson plans.

He said if the issue arises, he wants to find ways to creatively engage students from home.

"It's also a matter of whether we would want young kids home and basically just utilizing an iPad or some other technology as their only means of instruction," Alderfer said.

He said making this decision in Rockingham County could affect 23 schools and more than 11,000 students.

"It's likely that if we got to the point where it was necessary to close even one school, we would likely do that for all of our schools," Alderfer said.

He says the Virginia Department of Education would decide if those days off would need to be made up.

"If it was a situation where we were closing schools because of the virus, there would be guidance from them about how much of that time needed to be made up, how much of it could be counted," Alderfer said.

Dr. Michael Richards, the superintendent with Harrisonburg City Public Schools, said they are also preparing.

He said their students also have technology devices, like Chromebooks, they could take home but they are also looking for other options for students without access to WiFi.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Virginia Department of Health had confirmed eight cases of the virus, all of which are in northern or eastern Virginia. None of the cases was contracted in Virginia and there has been no community spread in the commonwealth, according to health officials.