All Alabama public schools will be closed for two-and-a-half weeks starting March 19, officials said Friday at an Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) news conference. On Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey has issued a state of emergency in Alabama.
This is due to the coronavirus outbreak in the state. This means schools will be closed from Thursday, March 19 through Friday, April 3.
Alabama has six confirmed cases of coronavirus cases, one in Limestone County, one in Elmore County, one in Jefferson County, one in Montgomery County, one in Tuscaloosa and one described by the ADPH as "Out of Town."
Huntsville City Schools announced that starting on Monday, March 16, all planned events and field trips are cancelled. That makes events, like high school theater productions, cherish this weekend even more.
Friday night was opening night for the Grissom High School production of "Tuck Everlasting." Director Stephanie Braly-Beutjer said that now the first weekend of their planned two-week run will be their only weekend.
"Huntsville High is in the same boat that we are in and we're all just crossing our fingers and trying to work together to make the best of a difficult situation," said Braly-Beutjer.
She said she talked to her cast for weeks leading up to opening night about the possiblity that they might get their performances cut in half.
"Especially for our seniors who have been doing this for four years, you know, they're seeing a chapter of their life close and then with all of the other things that are happening, they just want to bring this story to life. They all feel very passionate about what they want to say tonight on stage," said Braly-Beutjer.
Before taking her seat on Friday, Huntsville City School (HCS) Board President Elisa Ferrell said had the State of Alabama not decided that Wednesday would be the last day of classes, HCS would likely have made that decision anyway.
"Since October, our staff has been monitoring attendance in our schools and when a school has a high level of absenteeism, we go in and do a deep clean. If a student has the flu, we pay special attention to that classroom. So we have been monitoring for a long time and making plans," said Ferrell.
Braly-Beutjer said in between rehearsals, the cast and volunteers for "Tuck Everlasting" have been doing extensive cleaning of the theater space to make sure things are safe for their audiences.
She hopes that those who come see the show this weekend take away the idea that despite the spread of coronavirus, they shouldn't live in a state of fear.
"Even in hard times, art is what's going to bring us through, art is what's going to carry us to the next chapter. Whatever the next few days bring, whatever the next few weeks bring, there's always hope, there's always carrying people, there's always love," said Braly-Beutjer.
Starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, Alabama residents who want to ask if they should seek testing for coronavirus can call 1-888-264-2256.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey said the state is in the process of getting a USDA waiver to allow districts with "high poverty" to continue to provide lunch to children.
High poverty is defined as districts where 50 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunches.
Once the waiver is approved, the district can make the meals.
Then, it's just a matter of getting them to students.