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Coronavirus Forces School Cancellations in D.C.

For the rest of March — and perhaps even longer depending on how the coronavirus pandemic continues to play out — District public schoolchildren, teachers, staff and other personnel will be relegated to their homes as part of a larger public health response to the virus of which more than 125,000 people worldwide have contracted.

Early Friday morning, D.C. Public Schools [DCPS] Chancellor Lewis Ferebee announced that spring break would take place during the week of March 16, instead of April as originally planned. The week following will be dedicated to implementing distance learning as an alternative to classroom instruction.

But from now until April 1 when classes are tentatively scheduled to resume, DCPS-sponsored after-school activities will also come to a standstill. This follows the cancellation of study-abroad trips taking place before May 1. D.C. public libraries have also been scheduled to close with public charter schools encouraged to follow suit.

While public schools are closed, DCPS officials will dole out free meals to students at nearly a dozen locations throughout the city. The District government has also launched coronavirus.dc.gov as a resource for families anxious about how to avoid contracting the virus.

“We are grateful for the patience, flexibility and cooperation our DCPS community is demonstrating as we manage the dynamic nature of this event,” Ferebee said in a statement. “As we approach the next few weeks, we ask for continued patience and trust as the District navigates this unique situation. While this decision was made to prioritize the health and safety of our entire school community, we understand it will be disruptive to our families.”

Ferebee’s announcement follows one that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) made earlier in the week, closing all of the schools in the state and limiting religious gatherings of more than 250 people.

In Virginia, where 30 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed, Loudoun County school officials made plans to close school on Friday and reopen on Monday, while public schools in Alexandria and Arlington County will remain closed until mid-April.

As of Friday afternoon, 10 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the District, including two men, ages 38 and 59, who traveled to a level-three country on separate occasions. A 58-year-old woman who contracted the virus had also traveled to a high-risk country while a 39-year-old made contact at a large public gathering with someone who tested positive. A 24-year-old man, the youngest among this group, had no known exposure before health officials determined that he, too, had contracted the coronavirus.

With D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision to declare a state of emergency for the District on Wednesday, numerous local entities have curbed or ceased large-scale activities as part of an effort to contain the virus.

Staff in local government agencies will work remotely while public arenas under the purview of Events DC will be closed throughout the rest of March. The Library of Congress, The Capitol, White House and Smithsonian museum system have also been closed to the public until further notice.

This spring, tourists will, sadly, be unable to partake in always-anticipated, annual festivities including the Cherry Blossom Festival, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other gatherings.

Nationally, coronavirus cases have risen well beyond 1,700 with at least 40 reported deaths. This has compelled the National Basketball Association to cancel the rest of its season, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to do likewise in light of its highly-coveted March Madness men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The cancellation of such events have raised questions about what the future holds for people suddenly inconvenienced.

For District families, particularly those with special-needs students and others gearing up for graduation, they now face uncertainty about how the pandemic will affect their futures.

Ferebee crafted a special message at the end of his public statement to address their fears.

“We acknowledge the anxiety this may cause our students, especially our seniors who are focused on graduation and those students who depend on DCPS for critical services,” he said. “We also recognize the burden this will place on our staff and working families. As we learn more about what this extended closure means for the school year calendar, we’ll share that information with our school communities.”

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