Chinese students on exchange program won’t attend classes in Fairfax County, school system says

More than 20 children from an area of China where the coronavirus has hit hard are still visiting Fairfax County, Virginia — they just won’t be going to school while they’re there.

Fairfax County Public Schools spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell told WTOP Wednesday that the 21 students, all 12 years old, from Yichang, in China’s Hubei province, are visiting the area as part of an exchange program. Some of them are staying with families from Longfellow Middle School, in Falls Church, Virginia, and they have five adult chaperones with them.

The outbreak has been centered in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

The children and adults from China arrived in the past 48 hours, Caldwell said, flying through John F. Kennedy Airport, in New York — one of the five U.S. airports conducting enhanced screening for the coronavirus.

Caldwell said no one had any signs of being sick, and the risk of transmission was low.

“While health officials believe the risk of illness transmission … from these students is extremely low, we felt it necessary to make this adjustment,” principal Carole Kihm said in a letter to parents.

The program was to begin Wednesday and run through Jan. 29. The children would attend classes at Longfellow, but after a meeting among health and school officials, as well as parents, that part of the trip has been scrapped out of what the school system called an abundance of caution, Caldwell said.

Instead, the children will tour the D.C. area and take in other cultural sites, under the auspices of the travel company coordinating the exchange.

“We’re looking at ways to facilitate virtual instruction or interaction between the visiting students and Longfellow students,” Caldwell added Thursday. “We want to make the students’ experience as engaging and educational as possible.”

Families from Longfellow are meant to send their children to school in Yichang during the April vacation; it’s not known yet whether they’ll be able to, Caldwell said.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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