Schools close to stem virus spread

by Kate Evans

Morgan County Schools are closed for students through at least Friday, March 27, due to Governor Jim Justice’s March 13 order to close all West Virginia public and private schools. The move is meant to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Morgan County Schools has already taken steps to continue instruction and get meals to 2,219 local students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Schools officials have sent out robocalls and emails to parents and employees about the school closings, posted information about staff, meals and distance learning for students on their social media pages and website.

On Monday, March 16, lines of vehicles stretched in front of several county schools as parents arrived to pick up homework, textbooks and assignments, often with their children in the vehicle.

School staff wearing protective gloves retrieved individual student materials and delivered them to each vehicle.

School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said she felt confident in the plan they had in place.

Cars pull up to Widmyer Elementary to collect student school materials and free meals on Monday, March 16 as an extended school closure kicked in.

Families were picking up materials and sometimes free breakfast and lunch take-out meals on Monday.

“It’s a work in progress. We’re all in new territory here. We’re planning by the hour with some great ideas and are trying to implement them,” Tuttle said.

Morgan County Schools is offering free meals to students during the school closure period. Meals can be picked up at one of three locations: Widmyer Elementary (for Widmyer, Warm Springs Intermediate, Warm Springs Middle School and Berkeley Springs High School students), Pleasant View Elementary and Paw Paw Schools.

Student meal pick-up times will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday during the school closure. Double meals will be provided – bagged lunch and breakfast for the following day.   Families can pick up meals and milk at any location regardless of the school they attend.

Parents are asked to drive up to the school’s main entrance and stay in their vehicle. A staff member will provide the meals. Schools will update parents if they expand the service to other schools or make any changes.

The Morgan County Backpacks Program is also working with Morgan County Schools to deliver their food bags to needy students while school is out.

Tuttle said school officials are considering having school buses running their routes and deliver meals and instructional packets to students via bus. As of Monday, officials were still working out the bus rosters and logistics. The buses could also collect finished homework.

Tuttle hoped to have the buses running by the end of this week or by Monday at the latest.

Reaching students

Teachers have called students to determine who has internet access and who doesn’t, and who needs instructional packets. They were also checking on how students were doing, Tuttle said.

Teachers prepared student assignments that can be accessed online on the school’s website and packets for parents to pick up if students don’t have internet access.

A number of schools had packet pick-up times arranged on Monday. Families were notified by phone call, via social media and through other electronic means.

Teachers can be contacted through LiveGrade, email, Class Dojo or by calling the school’s main office, Tuttle said.

Families are urged to call individual schools with any questions.

All after-school and extracurricular activities including fairs, athletic events and practices are cancelled until at least April 10 when schools will reevaluate the situation.

Staff still working

All essential school staff reported to work their normal schedule Monday, March 16 through Wednesday March 18. Those employees were central office personnel, principals and assistant principals, social workers, counselors, school nurses, technology staff, school secretaries, maintenance and custodial staff, food service staff and transportation staff.

Counselors, social workers and school nurses were contacting at-risk students and coordinating support services. Teachers were preparing lessons either at school or while working at home. All staff was expected to be supporting students whether from home or their job site.

Online help, activities

Widmyer staff has posted some resources and possible activities for families during the school closure. They included 77 simple family STEM activities, ideas for activities with kids during school closings and Khan Academy student schedules for school closures.

Warm Springs Intermediate School also posted links to a number of online academic resources for parents and students that included ACT Academy, BrainPOP, Epic Books, Khan Academy, Math4Life, MobyMax, Spelling City, Think Central and Cacapon Institute Potomac Highlands Watershed eSchool.

School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said that they were creating another website with resources for students, parents and staff that would be linked to the county schools website. Staff would be adding a lot of links for parents to use at home with their kids along with links to coronavirus COVID-19 information.

Families and students were also asked to check the Morgan County Schools and individual schools’ Facebook pages and websites for continued information.

Boys and Girls Club

Boys and Girls Club locations are all closed in order to prevent the spread of disease as well, impacting afterschool care options for local families.

Eastern Panhandle Executive Director Stacie Rohn said three club sites, including the Morgan County Boys and Girls Club, are closed to members.

Staff is reaching out to families by phone to get them connected to resources that they may need during this time.

“Kids recognize staff as part of their family,” Rohn said.

Kids and parents may need someone to talk to or need help with homework, Rohn said.

Warm Springs Intermediate School Secretary Tammy Unger hands books and learning packets to a parent in front of the school on Monday, March 16 as a line of other parents wait to pick up school work.

Rows of textbooks and assignments were lined up inside the front doors of Warm Springs Intermediate School on Monday, March 16. Teachers and staff delivered individual packets to parents pulled up in front of the school. School Resource Officer Cpl. Kevin Barney assisted.