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Not ending in two weeks: Jefferson County Schools prepare for extended closure

By Staff | Mar 27, 2020

Shepherdstown Middle School students are finishing their second week of work packets, which were prepared by their teachers for a minimum two-week closure of the school. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — On March 13, Governor Jim Justice announced all West Virginia public schools would be closed indefinitely, to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 through the school system. As the virus continued to spread and 20 cases of it were confirmed throughout the state over the past week, that closure turned into a permanent decision, with Justice’s announcement of the Stay at Home Order on Monday.

Jefferson County Schools had prepared for this possible future, with JCS Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson planning a similar announcement for that same day, to permanently move staff to do remote work, through the end of the school year.

At Shepherdstown Middle School and Shepherdstown Elementary School, this remote work included teaching students through the use of the internet and pre-planned homework assignments. To make sure students were keeping on top of their educational development, teachers are being expected to keep in contact with their students’ parents, according to SMS Principal Rebecca Horn.

“We are nearing the end of what I believe to be the most stressful part, from the education perspective, the planning and preparation,” Horn said. “Something new to families and staff is the current requirement for every adult who has direct contact with your student to make meaningful contact, which may include phone calls. The middle school programmatic level requires twice-a-week per teacher. I understand that this may be overwhelming, but please know that we are doing this because we care about your child. These are opportunities to request help on assignments, support accessing materials and material needs such as food.”

These decisions aligned with those approved by Gibson, in her letter on Monday.

“We believe it is important to convey that as a result of the events that have transpired, Jefferson County Schools will be keeping all buildings and facilities closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year,” Gibson said. “We are hopeful that all the bold steps taken so far will save lives and shorten the time until we can get back to normal; however, being a responsible adult means facing hard truths. Those steps will not end in two weeks.

“Jefferson County Schools staff just transitioned more than 1,100 employees and nearly 9,000 students from a traditional learning environment to a nearly 100 percent virtual learning environment in a single week, and that is the model we will maintain for the remainder of the semester,” Gibson said. “It was an incredible feat and we couldn’t be more proud of our staff. However, we choose now to do the hard work of facing reality and planning to be working remotely for the rest of this year.

“We have a web page up for parents with educational resources and our staff will continue to conduct phone wellness checks, online tutoring sessions and other services. In fact, today we had more than 200 teachers attend training on virtual classroom tools to add to their sessions with students,” Gibson said, mentioning Jefferson High School seniors would not need to worry about how the alternative educational experience would affect their ability to graduate. “While there are many things we can’t promise because they are unknown, we can promise you we will do everything in our power for your children and your family to successfully navigate this crisis. We will educate your children, we will graduate your children and your children will hear from us that they are loved and not forgotten.”

That love has already been expressed through the work of Jefferson County Schools teachers to not only educate their students, but to also feed them, by helping with the distribution of 10,000 meals to local families with food insecurity concerns last week. The food distribution process will be taken care of by the National Guard from now on, according to JCS.