Governor Ralph Northam (D) Friday ordered all K-12 schools in Virginia to close for a minimum of two weeks in response to the "rapidly evolving coronavirus outbreak."
According to the governor's office, schools will close from March 16 through at least March 27. Officials say localities will "maintain authority over specific staffing decisions to ensure students maintain continuity of services or learning."
"We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19," Northam said in a prepared statement. "I recognize this will pose a hardship on many families, but closing our schools for two weeks will not only give our staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities, it will help slow the spread of the virus."
Thirty people had tested positive for coronavirus in Virginia as of midday Friday, according to the state Department of Health. Seventeen of those are from northern Virginia.
The governor added his office will "do everything possible" to accommodate students in the commonwealth who rely on school nutrition programs due to food insecurity, a measure Loudoun County Public Schools has already taken by providing free breakfast and lunch during the closure period, Superintendent Eric Williams announced Thursday.
"We recognize this decision places burdens on many of our parents and families, especially for those who rely on school nutrition programs for access to healthy food for their children," Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said in a prepared statement. He nevertheless echoed Northam's sentiments that, while inconvenient to many, the choice to impose statewide school closures "is in the commonwealth's best interest."
The Virginia Department of Education aims to help school divisions minimize disruptions to student development by providing families with educational resources during the closure period, said State Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane in a prepared statement. "We are committed to help divisions address all the implications of these closures and will seek to provide each division with maximum flexibility," he added.
Northam's announcement comes a day after he declared a state of emergency in Virginia.