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.