Letter – Schools are never closed

Published 11:23 am Wednesday, March 25, 2020

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On March 23, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that all K-12 schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia will be closed through the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year. In addition to other guidelines, Virginians are taking steps to “flatten the curve” to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

As someone who grew up in and still lives in Prince Edward County, hearing that the schools were closing did not surprise me, but is nonetheless heartbreaking. Those familiar with the Prince Edward County story know that our schools closed from 1959-1964, albeit for different reasons. Today’s situation is very different, but for students there are similarities—a loss of traditional education, loss of time with friends, loss of structure, loss of a safe space, loss of a steady meal, or loss of senior year rituals and powerful memories.

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What I will say is that although the physical school buildings may be closed, schools are never closed. Education can and must go on. Historically, at kitchen tables throughout the county, education continued. From the fellowship halls of churches, education continued. From the basements of homes, education continued. Parents, grandparents, business owners all became teachers, and their homes became classrooms. It was done because it had to be done. They were not passive victims in a process they were historically excluded from. They were instead resilient. My father was 6 years old when schools in Prince Edward County closed in 1959 and after they re-opened, turned 11 years old in the first grade. He graduated at 22 years old.

This is the same resiliency we need to cultivate now.

For all of my allies in education, your jobs are more important now than ever. We have to band together—even though far apart—to make sure we teach these students. Let us also remember to be mindful of the loss that students are experiencing. Support them educationally, but also psychologically and emotionally. Parents and guardians, lean on your local institutions such as libraries and museums. Lean on each other.

This will not be easy, but rest assured we have overcome these circumstances before and can do it again.

Cainan Townsend

Director of Education and Public Programs

Moton Museum