LIVINGSTON, NJ — As the Coronavirus death toll continues to rise, officially surpassing 300 deaths and more than 17,000 cases reported as of Sunday night, the Livingston Public Schools (LPS) district recently decided to postpone its upcoming exchange-student program with middle school students from China.

From Feb. 2 to Feb. 10, Heritage Middle School expected to host a group of seventh-grade students from Zhuhai City, China as part of the Livingston Board of Education’s partnership with EduAcross and the West Essex YMCA. Several families from Livingston had offered to take students into their homes as guests during the week as well.

When the spread of the virus became severe enough for the district to debate whether to cancel the Chinese students’ trip to Livingston, LPS Superintendent Dr. Matthew Block said the district “wanted to make a decision in a timely manner in order to give the exchange program enough lead time to rework their logistics.”

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"As news began to develop about the spread of the Coronavirus in China, we began having conversations with the organization that sponsors the exchange students about the timing of their visit to Heritage Middle School,” said Block. “We simultaneously consulted with local health experts seeking their advice on the issue…

“At the time we needed to make the decision to postpone, we did not know what was going to happen with the virus going forward. We also knew there were a limited number of confirmed cases of the virus in the province where the exchange students live. Based on that uncertainty, it was recommended to us by local health officials that, out of an abundance of caution, we postpone the visit.”

Block added that all involved believed it was best to postpone, and that the leaders of the exchange program “were very supportive and understanding of [the LPS district’s] decision.” 

“We sincerely hope to be able to reschedule the visit for sometime in the future when this health concern is no longer an issue," said Block.