Schools close for two weeks leading up to spring break
Woodford County Public Schools are closed this week and next because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Spring break is scheduled the following week, March 30 to April 3. Because federal health officials are warning of the possible need for an extended shutdown of schools in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, Hawkins said he and his principals talked on Monday morning so they could begin to prepare if schools here are shuttered beyond April 3. “Because things are changing every day,” said Hawkins. “The governor announced today (Monday, March 16) that he was going to be closing … mandating I guess, all restaurants and bars to close in-person dining after today. So there are some unprecedented things happening right now that could mean an extended closure for us.” Hawkins said he and other superintendents were told last Wednesday, March 11, in a conference call with Gov. Andy Beshear that they needed to be ready to close schools within 72 hours of his recommendation. “When we got the notification (that we would need to close for at least two weeks),” said Hawkins, “we were ready to go.” Woodford County teachers have five days worth of non-traditional instruction (NTI) materials ready for students by November and those materials are typically sent home in early-December, Hawkins said. He said teachers were asked last week to get five more days of material ready in the event schools were closed for a more extended period of time. Hawkins acknowledged it’s a greater challenge to continue quality instruction if students are not in the schools … (but) “there … are skills and some other activities that kids can do that will allow the learning to continue. So that is doable. And that’s what we asked teachers to prepare” for students. He said middle and high school students will have access to Chromebooks, which will allow teachers to provide feedback on homework assignments. Also, elementary students could take books home so they can continue to read while not in school, he said. “So we’re going to learn a lot through this process too,” said Hawkins. “But at the end of the day, what we want to try to do is to try to give good work to our kids … and provide the support that they may need …” He said support can come in the form of an email, but technology also provides avenues for two-way communication between students and teachers. “One of the things that we’re going to try to encourage as much as we can as we move along,” said Hawkins, “… is to make sure we’re spending some of our time reaching out to our kids – call them at home and say, ‘How are you doing with your homework?’ “Again,” he added, “this is unchartered waters. And so we’re going to learn some things as we go.” Some teachers and support staff are working in the schools, while others are not, according to Hawkins. He said everyone in the school buildings are being encouraged to heed “social distancing” (at least six feet apart), hand washing and covering a cough recommendations to limit the spread of COVID-19. Students will continue receiving free lunches at all public schools, from Monday through Friday, this week and next, according to school officials. Families may pick up their children’s lunches from a car like a drive-thru window. Simmons Elementary will continue offering this service to families during spring break. In addition to providing free lunches to students 18 years old and younger, adults may purchase a lunch for $3. Any family that needs meals delivered may contact their child’s school, a district Facebook post stated. Like the public schools, St. Leo School and Woodford Christian School are also closed through at least April 3. St. Leo Principal Helena DiBiasie said her students will use non-traditional instruction days this and next week. She said her faculty was very busy last week making plans for those two weeks in anticipation of the governor’s recommendation that all schools close. “It really depends on the grade (of a child) and the teacher and the subject,” said DiBiasie in response to a question about how students will learn at home. Asked about the mood of students last Friday, she said, “They’ve been absolutely fine.” Teachers will work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., “and they’re available to the kids via phone and email,” said DiBiasie. Because Woodford Christian School has not used NTI days in the past, Principal Cara Meadows said her faculty was busy preparing packets for their students to take home. “It’s really kind of taken a rally around each other the last 48 hours to get to this (point),” she said last Friday morning. In her letter to parents, Meadows said she wanted to ensure Woodford Christian School families that they will continue having a positive experience during “these unprecedented times.” Beyond the first five-day homework packets that students received before leaving school last Friday and another five-day packet that parents will pick up, Meadows said, “The priority for us is to maintain the integrity of who we are, which is relational in nature, which is family-oriented. So we don’t want that to change just because we’re doing school differently during these next – minimum – two weeks, possibly more.” Teachers will be available to students and their families by phone or via email, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, said Meadows. She said teachers are also being asked to find other ways to stay connected with their students and families – whether that’s making a phone call or mailing a handwritten letter or creating a video to send via a social media platform.