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State of Emergency temporarily closes schools

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country, all Alabama schools are closed until April 6 after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a State of Emergency Friday.

Since schools are not in session because of a State of Emergency, the school days will not have to be made up.

Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes said in everything he has faced in his 11 years as a superintendent, he’s never imagined anything like this situation. Despite the challenge and hardship the closure could cause, he said he absolutely supports Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision to issue the State of Emergency and close the school systems here at the outset of the pandemic.

“I think they did make the right choice. They have more information than we do, and from everything that I can gather,” Grimes added, “if we’ll do a good job  – if we’ll attack this with some sense of urgency, hopefully we can return to our normal way of life in three weeks or so. If we do not, it appears we might be doing this for eight, 10, 12 weeks. I’m extremely supportive of their decision, and I think we are on the right track.”

The important thing right now, Grimes emphasized, is to limit spread of the disease so as to keep as many people healthy as possible and not overwhelm hospitals, healthcare workers and medical resources.

The other important thing, of course, is what this closure means for local students.

“The impact on education is what I’m most concerned about,” Grimes said. “We have kindergartens and first-graders who are just beginning to make sense of phonics and basic reading skills – the practice and continued implementation of that are so important for these young ones. I’m very concerned about the impact and the regression we will have.”

At the other end of the educational spectrum, Grimes added, juniors and seniors are finishing AP courses and trying to achieve college credit and college admission. “They are just missing critical information and instruction,” Grimes said. “It definitely is a cause for concern.

Grimes said he would urge students during this time to help mitigate the impact of school closure by taking responsibility for their learning during this time. Students have been provided online resources to use to continue independent learning while schools are closed. “I strongly encourage parents to help them and for students to take ownership,” Grimes said.

At bare minimum, Grimes said the system is encouraging students to read, or parents to read to their children, for at least 20 minutes a day, which has been shown to “truly change the educational outcome for students.”

Franklin County Schools Superintendent Greg Hamilton said he wasn’t surprised when schools were closed, although it did put the system in a bind to get closure plans in place in short time constraints.

“If social distancing is the answer, I knew it was just a matter of time until they had to do something in the schools,” said Hamilton. “I hate that this has happened, but I understand. These are steps we need to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Hamilton said from the time of the announcement late Friday, until students went home Monday afternoon to begin their hiatus, he and all FCS employees were busy preparing for the closure.

“We had people working all weekend,” said Hamilton, who praised all school employees for the diligence. “Basically we had 48 hours to get everything together to close the school … With that being said, the teachers and administrators have done a fabulous job looking out for the best interest of the students and getting them the things they will need while they are away.” He also praised FCS bus drivers, CNP workers and all support personnel who have assisted in getting a plan in place. “Everyone has stepped up during this time of crisis.”

Hamilton said FCS took measures to send paper materials home with students, since many FCS students lack either the internet or the technology to access online resources. All students have received a review packet, a note from teachers and an anxiety plan for parents, and Hamilton said school personnel are still making every effort to contact students through email and social media who might still need these or other resources.

“Our business is children, and we’re trying to do everything we can to educate them, keep them safe and keep them fed,” Hamilton said. “We’re using every means we can to get things to the children.”

Of course, also of concern for many during this time are breakfasts and lunches, which local students enjoy for free during the typical school day. Russellville City Schools and Franklin County Schools have both made arrangements for meals to be sent to students during this time when schools are not in session.

RCS will have Grab N Go meals available during weekdays while school is not in session from 10 a.m. to noon daily. There will be no meals served March 30 through April 3 since that is the system’s regularly scheduled Spring Break week.

Beginning March 19, Franklin County Schools are beginning COVID-19 meal plans for students to include free breakfast and lunches.

Five breakfast and five lunch meals will be sent to each bus rider every Monday between 10 a.m. and noon. Any bus rider interested in picking up weekly meals can meet the bus driver at their house when the bus arrives.

The bus driver will bring the meals to each individual so there will be no need to get on the bus.

For students who are car riders, the five breakfast meals and five lunch meals will be available to pick up from the child’s school every Monday between 10 a.m. and noon.

Meals will be served in the school drop-off/pick-up lines. At the point of pick-up, someone will bring meals out to cars for all of the children in the car.

These meals will be available for all Franklin County School students for as long as school is closed, even during Spring Break.

Northwest-Shoals Community College in Phil Campbell is switching to online classes because of the virus until April 6.

All computer labs and testing centers on campus will be closed, with the university still observing its regularly scheduled Spring Break March 23-27.

Grimes said it’s hard to know how things will progress at the other side of this school closure, particularly if it winds up being extended beyond April 6.

“If we come back in early April, we’ll pick up where we left off, hopefully with a sense of urgency, and try to hit those critical skills – the things we think are most important,” Grimes said. Because of the uncertainty, students continuing with their own learning during this time is a crucial piece of closing the gap. Grimes said teachers will still be available by email, and the system will still be available through all social media channels, to connect with students and parents during this time. “We encourage them to keep learning and keep working through this and ask for what they need, and we will try to support them in any way we can.”

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