Statement on school closure for JCH families

March 15, 2020 | Programs

[Outpatient and Adult families please note: we are working on Monday to assess services options. We will contact you  as soon as we have more information to share.]

Dear James C. Hormel School Families:

We are very concerned about the impact of the statewide schools closure on the families we serve. We know that you have many of the same questions and worries that we do. Please know that we are trying to find answers, but given the evolving situation it has been difficult to get accurate responses.

Here is what we know so far.

We learned from a press release at 2:30 pm on March 13, 2020 that Governor Northam issued an Executive Order requiring all K-12 schools in Virginia to close for a minimum of two weeks. Subsequently, VIA reached out to the state Office of Specialized Education Facilities and Family Engagement (SEFFE) to seek clarification about the impact of this closure, including what is required and what is possible.

BEFORE the Governor’s Executive Order, SEFFE emailed VIA and provided guidance directives that indicated the following:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act DOES NOT require that services to students with disabilities continue in the case of an emergency closure, but it does indicate that those services must resume promptly once schools re-open.
  • Emergency closure is NOT a “change of placement,” and so does not require or trigger an IEP change.

AFTER the Governor’s closure announcement, Henry Millward, Director of SEFFE, emailed VIA to assure us that the Governor’s Executive Order does in fact apply to all public and private schools within the Commonwealth. He has yet to clarify as to whether VIA will still receive payment for those students who do not come to school as a result of Executive Order.  These payments are critical to sustain operations and allow us to resume services once this crises resolves. We are working with elected officials to find an answer to this question. If you would like to help, please contact your local elected officials and ask them to assist us in finding this answer. We are obviously in a very difficult situation being forced to close, no assurance of revenue, and an impending purchase of a new building to house our high school program scheduled for April 1, 2020.

Here is the other information we have to convey to you at this time:

  • There is no guidance as yet on any special provision for students with serious medical needs. Some families have reached out to us about medications for their student.  If you need access to medications that are kept at the school, please contact Stephanie spalm [at] viacenters [dot] org or Jess jdoucette [at] viacenters [dot] org to make arrangements.
  • Several families have asked us about the possibility of some sort of alternative teaching arrangement during closure. We are seriously looking at the possibility, but it is not at all clear how feasible it is, or how advisable it is given the health emergency.  This is one of the issues that we are seeking guidance about from our school partners, the state special education office, and the Health Department.  We will keep you posted as we learn more, but it may take time.
  • We are developing a plan for staying in contact with you during this closure. VIA staff will be working to develop a calendar and schedule to reach out to each of you personally during the coming days to check in and touch base. We recognize that some of you have special challenges and need special supports. Regardless of the closure, Family Resource Navigator Hilary Nagel, and others of our staff, are available to help. Please contact her at hnagel [at] viacenters [dot] org if you have pressing needs or are in crisis. Hilary can draw upon a wide network of services and supports to help families that are struggling.  She urges anyone who needs it to reach out to her immediately for help.
  • We will continue to keep you informed as a group about school-wide decisions and planning. In the meantime, if you have any updates or corrections to your contact information to share, please send them to lgarretson [at] viacenters [dot] org.

This is a very stressful situation for all of us, and especially for those of us with vulnerable family members. Our primary consideration is safety, but our mission is service. VIA staff is fully committed to the well-being of your children, and we are keeping you in our hearts and minds as we confront this challenging time together.


Ethan Long

President, Virginia Institute of Autism