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Schools grapple with forced shutdown; meals sites set up

SoVaNow.com / March 18, 2020
With Virginia schools closed for at least the next two weeks, teachers and administrators are scrambling to provide learning opportunities for idled students and ensure that those living in food-insufficient homes have access to school breakfast and lunch.

District superintendents in Region 8, which includes Mecklenburg County Public Schools, “have had several meetings the last couple of days and are following guidance from the Department of Health,” said MCPS Superintendent Paul Nichols ahead of Friday’s announced closure of K-12 public schools around the state.

On Monday, the county school division began providing free breakfast and lunch for all students age 18 and below who have transportation to either Chase City, Clarksville or South Hill elementary schools.

Pick-up times run from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., but children eligible for the meals must be present at the pick-up location to receive the food. Lunch for the day and breakfast for the following morning will be available at each school site, but the meals must be ordered by 8:30 a.m. each day.

The order form is available online at mcpsweb.org. However, no contingency exists for those who do not have access to the internet.

Nichols said the school division does not have buses available to deliver the meals since a “deep-clean to disinfect them” has been arranged while students are out of school. “Additionally, the box meals that we are preparing should be refrigerated until they are ready to be given to students. None of the buses have proper refrigerated storage,” Nichols added.

By end of day Friday, students were supposed to have left school with sufficient study materials to sustain them for the duration of the possible closure. Many parents complained this did not happen; their child left school on Friday with had little or no schoolwork. When asked about this, Nichols replied he hoped to deliver additional materials to students via “email or technology,” but again did not explain what would be done for students who lack access to the internet, an issue for many families in Mecklenburg County.

Nichols also said he cannot say how the truncated school year may affect SOL testing, since end-of-course tests are mandated by the federal government. “At this point the U.S. Department of Education has not lifted the requirement for high stakes testing,” said Nichols. “The President’s State of Emergency [declared Friday] may lead to lifting the requirement for testing. Unless [then] we will have to find some way to complete the lessons to prepare students for success.”

On Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Education asked the federal government to consider a statewide testing waiver, in recognition of the time lost in preparing for SOL tests in late April and early May.

On a related matter, Mecklenburg County Public Schools does not have a plan in place to ensure that students taking Dual Enrollment classes can complete their class requirements. Nichols noted that not enough DE teachers are trained to prepare on-line lessons, and too many DE students do not have access to high speed internet, which would be needed for online learning.

“This is new territory,” Nichols said.

As matters now stand, Nichols said the school division “is on track to take advantage of the full spring break,” meaning there are no plans to cancel the break. He also does not anticipate pushing back graduation for the senior class, but that possibility remains if the current school closure is extended.

Nichols said a delay in graduation ceremonies would be “difficult as announcements have been ordered and relatives have planned for our weekend.”

Teachers are also not required to come to the schools except on Monday, March 23. Nichols said he’s asking teachers to work on lesson plans for the coming weeks.

It is unclear if the school closings will extend beyond two weeks. But with Gov. Ralph Northam ordering the cancellation of all public events of more than 100 people for at least 30 days, Nichols said he is preparing for schools being closed beyond the initial two weeks.

Other educational centers in and around Mecklenburg County have made schedule changes. Career Tech Academy students in South Hill will begin online instruction starting Monday, March 23. This will allow those students to continue to earn DE credits.

Technical training classes at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Hill — site of Career Tech Academy, IT Academy, Mechatronics, and Welding and community college classes — are canceled through March 27. All full-time SVHEC instructors and all SVHEC staff have been asked to report to work as usual.

Southside Virginia Community College has canceled classes for next week and will then transition to online classes, while Danville Community College is extending spring break through March 20.

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So many people are suggesting all of these websites to help students but they forget a lot of these rural areas don't have high speed internet. College kids are being sent home to continue classes online but unless you live in town limits you cannot access affordable high speed internet. The board of supervisors need to put some effort into getting Mecklenburg County in line with other localities to get affordable high speed internet access. You want the young people to stay in the community but the community isn't trying to provide them the tools and essentials they need to stay in the community.


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