Some of the 435 students at the Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts magnet school cried when they learned Friday that K-12 schools statewide were closing until April 13 in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

"Mason, I'm going to miss you!" principal Candice Hartley yelled as one of her students headed for a school bus Friday afternoon.

Just a short time earlier, Gov. John Bel Edwards had made an unprecedented announcement that left school administrators, staff, support personnel and parents with more questions than answers.

Andra Johnson has a fifth-grade son at the Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts. Johnson works at Southern University; his wife works from home.

"We still have to navigate some things," Johnson said outside the school office. "Keeping him engaged. Being home a whole month, the resources that come into play. It's kind of chaotic right now."

Zoya S., a fifth-grader at the school, did not welcome with open arms the news that she was going to be away from her school for a month.

"I feel that we might get behind in our studies and that's not good," she said. "I don't feel good about school being canceled."

Hartley, who has been principal at the school for five years, said she and her staff are doing their best to make sure students don't fall behind.

"Ensuring that our students' educational needs are met. That's our first priority," she said.

To that end, Hartley said, the performing arts magnet's "school closure continued learning plan" includes online virtual learning for grades 3-5, and workbook pages and some online learning for K-2.

The magnet is a pre-K through 5 school located in the affluent Hundred Oaks area of Baton Rouge, but it draws students from across East Baton Rouge Parish, from the wealthiest families to the poorest.

Hartley said the school's goal over the next month is to "keep the learning going at home."

"You don't know what every student's home situation is," she acknowledged. "There won't be any punitive measures taken" if work assigned during the month-long break is not completed.

Hartley said it is far too early to answer questions about whether, and how, the missed school days will be made up. Students are required to be in school a certain number of minutes each school year, but she learned in the aftermath of the 2016 flood that exceptions can be made.

"Not all of that time had to be made up," Hartley said.

Azell Williams, a school bus operator with the East Baton Rouge Parish School District, said making up a month of missed school would cause her and the students she transports to spend more time in the hot summer in her bus that does not have air conditioning.

"We have to make it up, so we'll be driving in June when it's really hot," Williams said as she waited in her bus in the performing arts magnet school parking lot.

The governor's announcement means her 10th-grader will be off for a month, but because she'll have the same time off, Williams said it won't be a problem.

Christine Savard, a clerk at the magnet school and the parent of a third-grader at the school, tried to take the announcement from the governor with a sense of humor.

"I haven't figured out yet what it means. It's probably going to mean a thousand hours of Fortnite games, I guess. I'm going to be off of work as well, so that won't be a struggle."

Michael Johnson and his wife have a kindergartner and third-grader at the magnet school, and the couple work out of their home.

"It's going to be a struggle, but I totally understand," he said. "I definitely commend all the leaders involved for doing the right thing."

For Latasha Howard, the mother of a fourth-grade student at the school, the month off won't be an inconvenience because as a human resources employee at Baton Rouge Community College, she's got the next month off as well as the college shifts to on-line classes only amid coronavirus concerns.

"I like to be at home when she's off. I love it," Howard said.

Part-time nurse Sang Ly has a third-grader at the performing arts school and a sixth-grader at Sherwood Middle. Her husband works in downtown Baton Rouge.

"For me I'm blessed because I have a mother who lives with us," she said.

Annie L., a fifth-grader, perhaps summed up best the sentiments of many of her fellow Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts students.

"I'm kind of upset because I like seeing my friends and the faculty and staff every single day. I wouldn't have half the friends I have without coming to school," she said. "We're all kind of upset about it."


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.