WOOD RIVER JCT. — The news that Chinese students won’t be visiting Chariho as planned has come as a disappointment, but administrators say the decision to cancel the exchange trip was necessary.
With 80 people dead from the coronavirus as of Monday and more than 2,700 cases reported, Interim Superintendent of Schools Jane Daly said the school district had made the difficult decision to cancel the visit by 12 students at Chariho’s sister school in Liuyang, China. The students were scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.
Daly said she had contacted Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie, who told her that the Chinese visitors had to be notified by Jan. 24 to give them sufficient time to change their plans.
“Upon hearing rapidly evolving information in the news, I contacted the principal to find out when a decision would have to be made, and he informed me that our guests needed to know that day in order to make other arrangements,” she said. “I then called the Rhode Island Department of Health to better understand the situation and learn information on potential screenings which may have been needed.”
Daly said she had determined that as of Jan. 24, 69 coronavirus cases had been reported in Hunan province, where Chariho’s sister school is located. Hunan is about 250 miles from the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated.
“I made the decision to cancel based on my concerns for the safety and security of the school community,” Daly said. “I did consult with the principal and School Committee chair to ensure that appropriate notification to our invited guests and the host families was first made before making the public announcement.”
Daly said she had also been concerned that the virus’s incubation period would have made the diagnoses of infected students challenging.
"One other factor in my decision-making, that there is an up to 14 - day incubation period, so even if we did screenings first, there may have been no symptoms at the time of screening,” she said.
MacKenzie, who has visited the No. 1 school and was instrumental in planning the student exchange, said he was shocked at how quickly the visit had been jeopardized by the progress of the coronavirus in China.
“I’m heartbroken that our efforts to being our sister school students to Chariho have been undermined by an outbreak that gave us little time nor alternatives,” he said. “I remain in daily contact with Wang Ling, our Chinese teacher from a year ago, who has worked so hard to create this opportunity for her students at No. 1 High School in Liuyang, Hunan, China and ours, in hopes that costs can be minimized and an alternate date in the near future established for our schools to unite.”
A new date for the visit will be scheduled once the virus has been controlled.
“Many relationships among the 12 students visiting and our hosting students have already been established through electronic group chat, and students and parents are eager to engage in planning for the exchange once the outbreak is contained and the health and safety of students at both schools can be assured,” MacKenzie said.
Daly added, “We hope to reschedule in the future, and are also hoping for the safety and wellness of the students, staff, and families in our sister school and for all those affected by this virus.”