School closures in the Richmond area have been extended.
Hanover County Public Schools, Henrico County Public Schools and Chesterfield County Public Schools announced Wednesday that schools will be closed through spring break, meaning the earliest day they would reopen in Henrico and Chesterfield is April 14, while Hanover students could return April 13. The move comes two days after Richmond Public Schools announced that it was keeping schools closed through spring break and beyond what Gov. Ralph Northam ordered last week.
Northam’s order shuttered schools from Monday until at least March 27.
“Like you, we continue to keep a close eye on local, state and national health recommendations, and we can’t rule out the possibility that this information will change again,” Henrico Superintendent Amy Cashwell said in a message to parents and staff members.
Henrico is stationing vans at four high schools — Deep Run, Douglas Freeman, Hermitage and Highland Springs — that are serving as “mobile technology hubs” for students and staff, allowing up to 400 students and staff members who can’t access the internet at home to get Wi-Fi hot spots. The vans are open weekdays from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m.
The county school system is also adding seven more food distribution sites Thursday and another on Monday. Students can go to those locations, which will bring the total to 14 sites, and get free breakfasts and lunches from 11 a.m. to noon.
In Hanover, the school system is offering free curbside food service on weekdays at five locations. That service will continue during spring break, the district said in a news release.
“These are extraordinary times, and we continue to take extraordinary measures to do our part to help prevent and contain the further spread of COVID-19 within our community,” said Hanover schools chief Michael Gill.
Chesterfield’s school system called the coronavirus pandemic “uncharted waters” in its message about extending the closures.
“This decision was not reached lightly, and we realize the impact that this will have on day-to-day family operations,” the message read. “However, with the health experts’ guidance we have and various levels of governments’ emergency declarations, we believe this action is in the best interest of our students and staff.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Commonwealth University is moving classes online for the rest of the semester and postponing its May commencement.
The Class of 2020 will be honored during the December commencement, VCU President Michael Rao announced Wednesday evening. He called the decision “necessary but disappointing.”
The university said classes will be held remotely to “ensure that students can complete the semester as safely as possible and with as much continuity as possible.”
In addition, James Madison University said Wednesday that it is postponing spring graduation ceremonies and will keep classes online until the end of the semester as well.
In his message to the VCU community, Rao said: “We realize that this kind of learning and teaching is new for many of you, and that you will be understanding of each other as we blaze this trail together.”
JMU President Jonathan R. Alger said in a note to students: “My heart aches for all of you who have poured yourselves completely into your own unique and special Madison experiences. It was impossible for any of you — or indeed any of us — to have imagined that the school year, and for some your academic time at Madison, would end in this way. I am deeply sorry for these incredible disruptions in your lives.”
Rao said the VCU library is working on digitizing resources, including textbooks and required reading, so students can still access class materials. He also said the university will be issuing refunds and credits for housing and dining.
VCU and JMU join a growing number of colleges, including the University of Richmond and the University of Virginia, in postponing its May graduation ceremonies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance this week recommending the cancellation of events with 50 or more people through early May.
“We will still make sure that May graduates, as well as the many individuals who supported our graduates through the years, are recognized in a special way,” said Rao, who pledged that more information will be released soon.
Rao’s message also said that working from home is mandated for all nondesignated VCU employees through the end of April.
“We all feel the loss of leading our normal lives for reasons that are beyond anyone’s control,” Rao said. “We are in the midst of this unprecedented life-threatening situation, where there are no easy decisions or solutions.”
There is no timetable for JMU’s commencement ceremonies, originally scheduled for May 7-9, the university’s letter said, but graduates’ degrees will be conferred in May, once final grades are in.
Alger also said in his letter to students that residence halls “with very limited exceptions” would be closed, with on-campus students needing to be out by March 29. The school would issue refunds, he said, and information on that would be “forthcoming.”
All on-campus events, regardless of size are also canceled through May 15, and JMU’s international programs have been suspended through the summer.