When two central office employees of the Harrisonburg City Public Schools system tested positive for COVID-19 this week, Superintendent Michael Richards acted like any good leader should — he shut down the building.

Close it for 14 days, clean the building top to bottom and hope those two employees get healthy and return to work when all in the clear.

That's called "doing your job in weird times," and we're being very kind when we call 2020 just "weird."

These two COVID-19 cases hit home, coming just days after Richards asked the school board to pivot toward starting the school year with distance learning. He saw the COVID-19 numbers on a regional and national level, sought feedback from the board to "pull one of the levers" and started angling toward going online for most of the city's students for the first semester. Of course, there are going to be hiccups, but after moving to online learning in March, Richards says the system is more prepared.

Indeed, we have to believe him. The closing of schools in March was a crisis-mode mentality, with teachers and administrators thrown into the fray just as much as students. With a whole summer to plan for worst-case scenarios, we have faith the school system, school board — and Richards — are ready to untie this Gordian Knot.

Again, though, there will be hiccups. Richards and the school board are no different from the rest of us and we're all learning on the fly right now when it comes to everything, really.

There are also some unanswered questions, however. What are working parents to do? How about working single parents? How about those who can't afford the internet or whose service is spotty at best?

These are questions that are going to have to be answered by somebody … and soon.

But when it comes to keeping our children safe from COVID-19, and making sure they don't carry the disease back home to mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, it appears Richards is, rightfully, erring on the side of caution.

"I can't, in good conscience, send students back to school even half the time," he said.

To make this work, it's going to take more work. That was obvious when Richards and the school board made this unenviable decision.

To make this work, it's going to take the community.

That should be obvious as well.

(6) comments


The folks running the city and county schools DO NOT want to open up, period! They are frightened people afraid of doing anything until the virus is gone or there is a proven vaccine that really works so they would not be subject to any bad publicity Or blame. Online learning is a joke suitable for only a small percentage of learners.


Newshound -- Yes, people are scared, and rightly so. Teaching is intensively interactive, and both teachers and students are vulnerable. My friend who is a master teacher of upper-level math in Fairfax County has spent the summer so far caring for her dangerously ill mother. She has been advised to teach remotely, thus avoiding the risk of bringing the virus to her mother. At present, approximately 1,600 Fairfax teachers are taking this step. At the same time, my friend is working hard on revising the lesson plans for all her courses so that online learning will be as effective as possible. Online learning is not a joke. It is the way in which more and more of us -- adults and children -- learn new things. To increase that "small percentage of learners" to which you refer, I suggest (1) support from parents on this learning process, (2) self-discipline, (3) support from parents, (4) elimination of the nay-sayers who influence student opinions; let them volunteer to help instead, (5) support from parents, (6) excellent teachers with good lesson plans, and (7) parents who know how to create optimal learning environments for their children, parents who help their children to read directions and make connections, and parents who enforce learning schedules and work conditions, and parents who do not criticize the work their children are doing and the schools that are directing that work.


I have a better suggestion M S. It's time to force lazy Demokkkrats to go back to work and become productive for a change.


“Upper-level math likely falls into the small percentage I mentioned. Try doing it with basic algebra with slow learners, and lower income kids whose parents can’t or just unable to help

Instead of wasting time and money and devising “social distancing” schemes that likely can’t be maintained, they should have told everyone its online until further notice.



If “virtual learning” is implemented for the first semester, at the beginning of the second semester – beginning with the high school -- reduce in-class high school attendance to 2.5 days per week with the other 2.5 days assigned as on-line learning. Split the student population into two groups, assigning one group to the Monday thru Wednesday (8-11:00) in-class attendance and second group to Wednesday afternoon to Friday in-class attendance. If successful introduce it for the lower grades.


No need to squander money on a second high school.

Students will be exposed to much less negative in-person peer pressure.

Those students who truly wish to learn will not be held back by those who do not and they will be able to more readily learn at their own pace (the assumption being that the virtual learning program is geared toward that end).

Parents can more easily be involved in monitoring what is going into their kids heads and, if necessary, implement countermeasures.


Interesting suggestion.

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