Mercer County Schools

PRINCETON — Mercer County Schools as well as all school systems in the state are busy finalizing plans for feeding students and continuing to educate them after the announcement was made Friday to close all schools until further notice.

Dr. Deborah Akers, superintendent of Mercer County schools, said Monday that the scenario has changed since Gov. Jim Justice made the closure announcement Friday afternoon.

Akers participated Monday morning in a task force formed in Princeton related to working together to be ready to handle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic if cases start showing up in the area.

West Virginia, as of Monday, was the only state to not have a positive test for the highly contagious virus that is especially hard on older people with underlying health issues.

“I can give you what I know at this point,” Akers told members of the task force gathered at Princeton City Hall. “But it may change before I leave.”

Akers said she and other superintendents were instructed Friday morning that schools would remain open and even have “targeted” closures if a case showed up, and that extracurricular activities were suspended.

“That was the directive,” she said, but a few hours later Justice announced all schools were closing, effective March 16. “We are closed and we anticipate being closed through March 27. They (the state) will reassess the situation at that point.”

Akers said another directive was released late Saturday night, prompting a Sunday meeting with school staff about meals for students, instruction and staffing at schools.

“We were given two charges,” she said. “Provide meals to students the best way possible and we are to make sure we are including education for students.”

On Monday and today those lunches were being distributed at each school with a drive-up service for parents. Parents can go to their child’s school between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to pick up the lunch, which also includes breakfast for the following morning.

For parents with children in multiple schools, they may pick up lunches at any of their children’s school locations, she added, and students need not be present for the pickup.

All the information is posted on the school system’s website.

Akers said bus drivers have been busy disinfecting and cleaning buses, and meals were distributed through the bus routes starting on Thursday. Buses were expected to arrive at their morning bus stops 4 hours after the normal pick up time. In addition to bus delivery, meals may continue to be picked up at all school locations between the hours of 11:00 am to 12:30 pm.

“Our administration and staff are still working,” she said. “Teachers and aides can work at home or come in to the school if they wish to prepared for the instruction that will begin on Thursday.”

According to the Mercer County School’s facebook page, “Students have a choice to receive their academic assignments digitally or in a printed format. Digital assignments will be available beginning Thursday, March 19. Printed assignments and instructional materials will be available in packets and ready for parent pick-up at each school site on Friday, March 20, during regular school hours.”

Students who need to return completed assignments may do so on any school day by returning materials to the staff delivering meals at their bus stops during meal drop-off times. For additional options on how to return completed assignments contact your child’s school.

Akers said it’s also possible the closure will go beyond two weeks.

“All sports are gone,” she said. “All competitions like the social studies far are gone.”

All after-school activities, including school proms, scheduled between now and May 9, 2020 have been canceled. This applies to all grade levels.

International and out-of-state travel for personnel has also ended.

Cristal Crowe, a social worker at Brushfork Elementary School, was on the job Monday.

“Today, the teachers on working to get packets together to sent out to children and they are also preparing online lessons,” she said.

They were also preparing 186 lunches for kids, she added.

All school systems in the state have been given the same directives.

Justice said in his Saturday directive that only essential staff will report on Monday, March 16 through Wednesday, March 18, and county superintendents will determine who these employees are in their counties.

“I want to commend all our school service personnel and school leadership for their commitment to our students and for making sure school meals are available to kids who truly need them,” Justice said. “At the end of the day, these are tough decisions being made as the result of a tough situation. But I truly believe, in my heart, that these are the things we need to do to keep all West Virginians as safe as possible.”

All remaining teachers and staff will return to work on Thursday and Friday to make sure plans are properly implemented so student needs, educator well-being, and the continuity of instruction are properly addressed.

“Every effort will be made so that the final school day will be the original date scheduled by the county, so there will be minimal disruption to summer vacations for our students and their families,” Justice said. “As we work through these troubled times we will do everything we can to not disrupt our lives any more than necessary. That also means that our kids will still be learning through a multitude of ways such as online classes or any and every concept our educators can come up with during this closure.”

Beyond online instruction, county leadership teams have an array of options to ensure the delivery of instruction including distance learning, telecommunication, electronic communication, traditional instructional packets, and more.

According to a statement on the Mercer County School’s facebook page, “As we move forward, it is our goal to continue to provide meal services and instructional support to our students. As we continue these efforts, our schools will be open to all employees to assist with providing these services. Every effort will be made to ensure recommended social distancing practices are adhered to.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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