Schools to stay closed for most of April

Hundreds of students still being fed daily

Warm Springs Middle School principal Jamie Harris and teacher Anthony McKee deliver bagged meals for students to a family’s vehicle on Monday, March 30.

by Kate Shunney

Due to the continued spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice has said all public and private schools in the state will remain closed until at least Monday, April 20.

The announcement has led local school officials to shift gears from short-term closure plans to more long-range measures meant to keep student brains engaged and their stomachs full.

Morgan County Schools Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said teachers are using multiple technology tools to stay in contact with students.

Teachers are using Google Classroom, Class Dojo and LiveGrades to post assignments for their students, interact with them about lessons, post educational videos and generally check in on their students’ wellness.

“Teachers are also making more long-term plans and have been looking at more project type approaches. They have also been encouraged to use household projects and activities and put an educational twist on them. In other words, use things that families are already doing to keep students educationally engaged,” Tuttle said.

School counselors and social workers are also talking with students and families by phone.

Teachers and principals are also finding ways to get school lessons to families who don’t have internet access at home.

Some teachers have gathered student books and workbooks from their usual classrooms, bagged them up and arranged to meet parents outside school buildings to pass those materials on, outfitted with protective gloves and at a distance.

Warm Springs Middle School principal Jamie Harris said Monday that his staff is meeting through online methods, and teachers are getting used to using alternative tools to keep students engaged.

Harris, who was handing out meals to families pulling up in front of the school, said principals and school staff have been adapting to almost daily changes in how they will proceed for the school year ahead.

Providing student meals has been a significant effort, involving kitchen and custodial staff at four schools, and staff to hand out the meals. Students in any Morgan County school can get a meal there, at Widmyer Elementary, Pleasant View and Paw Paw.

Tuttle said countywide, school sites are distributing about 800 breakfasts and 800 lunches per day.

“On the three days of the bus routes, we delivered 1,250 breakfasts and 1,250 lunches each day,” she said.

For a brief period, student meals were being delivered by Morgan County bus drivers, who also carried some school work. That practice was curbed last week to reduce in-person contact under state recommendations.

Harris said the Middle School, which is one of those four feeding sites, is giving out meals for roughly 200 students per day.

Harris said Widmyer Elementary has been feeding closer to 275 students.

He said the Middle School plans for 200 students daily and has very little food left over. Food supplies are solid, and schools continue to get what they need through the state and other suppliers.

Student meals will be paused for the week of April 6 through 10 – the school system’s scheduled Spring Break. Meals will resume the week after that. School officials notify families of the hours and locations of meal pickups as those details change.

Staff guidelines, planning

Despite the need for teachers to continue to work with students, school staffing has been affected by the closure, Tuttle said.

“Only essential staff are reporting at this point,” she said.

Measures are in place to protect both school employees and the families they may interact with.

“Elderly and immune-compromised staff have been encouraged to stay home from the beginning. Health checks (temp check and questionnaire) are taking place at work sites and for those distributing food. Any staff member with symptoms or with a sick family member are asked to stay home,” Tuttle said. “Staff are constantly reminded to practice social distancing, hand washing, good hygiene, etc. High touch point areas at our buildings are being cleaned regularly. Staff that can work from home have been encouraged to do so.”

It is unclear whether West Virginia students will return to their classrooms this school year. Other states, including Virginia, made an early decision to close their schools for the remainder of the academic year as the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise.

Public health officials continue to say social distancing and reducing gatherings of people is the surest way to manage the spread of the coronavirus.

Tuttle said Morgan County Schools personnel are getting more comfortable and creative with new technology, devising ways to stay connected to students who are no longer within arm’s reach.

“We have teachers that have daily or weekly meetings with students online. We have some teachers that read books to their students each evening. We are very proud of the efforts of all the staff to maintain communication and a social/emotional connection with our students. They miss the students as much as the students miss them,” she said.