School Closed As Coronavirus Outbreak Grows Locally

GDS canceled school and all school-associated activities on Tuesday, March 10 as the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak grows in and around Washington, D.C.

Head of School Russell Shaw announced the closure in an email to the school community sent after 10 p.m. on Monday, March 9, explaining that the partner of a GDS employee had tested positive for COVID-19. While the DC Department of Health did not recommend GDS to close, the school decided to do so “out of an abundance of caution,” Shaw wrote.

In an email the evening of March 10, Shaw informed the community that school would re-open on Wednesday, March 11. He also informed the community that the teacher whose partner tested positive for the coronavirus is lower and middle school music teacher John Barnes.

The Washington Post reported that, as of the evening of March 10, 22 cases of the novel viral disease have been discovered in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Multiple cases were found among the clergy, staff and congregants of Christ Church in Georgetown, including Barnes’ partner.

Christ Church in Georgetown, where multiple cases of the novel coronavirus have been found, including in Reverend Timothy Cole. (Source: The Washington Post)

The school declined requests for an interview, but said in a statement that Barnes has not been tested for coronavirus and is not symptomatic, but is nonetheless in “self-isolation.” In his March 10 evening email, Shaw reported on the “deep clean” both GDS buildings underwent and expressed his gratitude for families and the faculty. 

Shaw announced on March 9 that a series of school events will be canceled or postponed due to the risks associated with large group gatherings in light of the spreading virus. Two high school events were canceled: the March 13 go-go dance, organized by the Black Student Union, and the Benjamin Cooper Memorial Quizbowl Tournament on March 14. 

The school also decided to cancel all school-sponsored out-of-town travel, including trips for athletics and debate. 

 On March 4, in GDS’ first communication related to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Shaw shared the link to a new GDS web page about coronavirus with the community. The comprehensive web page includes suggestions and instructions for families, information about the school’s “risk matrix” and an explanation of the school’s plans for “distance learning” in the event of an extended period of school closure. 

An image of the novel strain of coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. (Source: NBC News)

The risk matrix—at risk level 2, moderate, at the time of publication—does not call for school closure even under risk level 3, medium, which includes “few COVID-19 cases within school community.” Despite these guidelines, the school decided to close on March 10 in the absence of any known cases within the community. 

The school’s coronavirus web page says of distance learning, “These experiences may look and feel very different than a student’s typical in-class experience.” According to the website, distance learning at GDS could include reading, independent work or video conferences. It will not, however, be based on the usual daily schedule from 8:15 or 8:45 a.m. to 3:05 or 3:15 p.m. 

Vinita Ahuja, director of extended learning and auxiliary programs and strategic projects, is managing the school’s response to the outbreak. 

In grade meetings on March 9, High School Principal Katie Gibson asked students to bring all school materials home and get computers if they need them from technology specialist and studio arts teacher Tuan Nguyen. Gibson also said that communications about the school’s response to coronavirus will be sent to both families and high school students.

Ethan Wolin ’23