WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - All schools in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties will close temporarily.
Following a meeting of school superintendents Saturday afternoon, Jefferson-Lewis BOCES superintendent Stephen Todd announced the temporary closing of Jefferson and Lewis counties, which will extend from March 16 through April 17. Teachers and staff will still report Monday.
Shortly after, St. Lawrence BOCES superintendent Tom Burns told 7 News all public schools there will close for the same length of time.
In all, the extended break will take in five weeks - four weeks of school and a week of spring break, for many schools.
7 News was told schools in the Jefferson-Lewis BOCES will work on a way to keep meals programs operating.
“To the degree possible and practical, essential school business functions will remain in place throughout the closure period in order to provide critical health services, food distribution mechanisms and facility maintenance,” the Jefferson-Lewis school superintendents and BOCES said in a joint statement.
The closing also includes Town of Webb Union Free School District and Adirondack Central School.
“The action taken today is not something that has been taken lightly,” again, from the Jefferson-Lewis statement.
“We understand the potential hardship this will create for students and families in the region. However, the health and safety of our students, staff and community remains our first priority.”
Todd took no questions after reading the statement.
Burns said schools in St. Lawrence County will get deep cleanings Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, with staff members reporting next Thursday and Friday.
In a statement Saturday night, St. Lawrence BOCES said “Beginning Monday, March 23rd, districts will provide breakfast and lunch to students aged 18 and under. Details about the process and procedures for food distribution will be forthcoming.”
Burns said students will get course instruction either online or in the form of study packets.
St. Lawrence County legislature chairman Joe Lightfoot told 7 News he’s declaring a state of emergency for the county, effective Sunday morning, to clear the way for the schools to close. Similarly, Jefferson County legislature chairman Scott Gray declared a state of emergency, effective at 6 PM Saturday.
Burns called the April 20 return date ‘tentative.’ School officials in all three counties will be monitoring conditions over the next five weeks, to evaluate whether it’s safe for students to return to class.
Also affected by Saturday’s decision: Benchmark Family Services in Watertown, which operates on the same calendar as the public school systems, and which will now close until April 17.
North country schools join school districts in the Ithaca area, in Madison County, (central New York), schools all around the Albany area, and Oneida County, which have all announced closings.
The state has issued guidelines requiring schools to shut down for at least 24 hours to sanitize if a student, staff member or visitor tests positive for COVID-19. As of Saturday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of the illness in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties.