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Liberty Middle School closes after 3 employees test positive, 15 exposed to COVID-19

Posted at 4:09 PM, Sep 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-07 18:55:19-04

ASHLAND, Va — Liberty Middle School in Hanover County will close through at least September 14 after three employees tested positive for COVID-19 and 15 others were potentially exposed.

"After close consultation with Hanover Health Department officials and careful consideration, I have made the difficult and necessary decision to close LMS through Wednesday, September 9 to protect the health and safety of all students, faculty, and staff," Superintendent Michael Gill said in a letter to parents on Monday.

No instruction will occur on Tuesday, September 8 or Wednesday, September 9 for LMS students.

Gill said that "more details will be forthcoming following plans for remote instruction" on Thursday, September 10, and Friday, September 11.

Monday, September 14 is a student holiday.

On Sunday, Gill said that the school board learned that three employees at LMS tested positive for COVID-19.

"Currently, there are at least 15 staff members who may have been exposed," Gill said. "Health department officials believe that other LMS and HCPS staff members who have been inside LMS over the past two weeks may be at risk, and they are continuing their investigation."

The individuals who tested positive are in isolation, and those who were possibly exposed will remain in quarantine for 14 days, as required by official health guidance.

"We are hopeful that we will be able to offer remote instruction later this week, possibly on Thursday, September 10," Gill said. "This will depend upon the progress that health and school officials are able to make in identifying and testing all individuals who may have been inside of LMS over the past two weeks for COVID-19. This is a time-consuming process."

Hanover County is the largest school district in Central Virginia to send some students back to classrooms. HCPS game families the option to chose between in-person instructions or fully virtual learning.

A local teacher advocate who has been in contact with employees at Liberty said a significant number of the 6th-grade staff is now in quarantine.

Some teachers expected there would be positive cases once classes resumed but were “blindsided” that they are occurring before students even entered the school building, the advocate said.

A parent at Liberty expressed concern that the school district has not publicized its plans to shut down a school building if students or employees begin to test positive.

The mother, who asked to not be identified, said she had no choice but to send her student back since she is a single, working mother. With limited internet access where she lives in Hanover, the mother said their family would not feel prepared to swiftly move to virtual learning while ensuring the quality of her child’s learning did not suffer.

As a part of their “Return to Learn” FAQ, Hanover schools included a “what happens if schools close again” section.

“We are preparing now in case this should happen. If a classroom, school, or the division closes, teachers will be prepared to move swiftly to a distance learning model and keep instruction moving. Clear expectations will be provided for students and parents as well as information on how students will be held accountable for classwork,” the HCPS website reads.

This is a developing story.