CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Hancock County sits directly between Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states with growing lists of public school closures at a time when COVID-19, the new type of coronavirus that’s now a global pandemic, continues to spread in the U.S.
“We’re looking at what’s happening on both sides of us,” said Alyssa Mick, principal of Oak Glen Middle School in Hancock County.
West Virginia joined that list on Friday morning when Governor Jim Justice announced all schools in West Virginia would be closing effective at the end of the day Friday.
No potential school reopening date was immediately available. “We’ll close the schools as long as we have to close the schools,” Justice said at the news conference.
Justice clarifies that this starts at the end of today https://t.co/1qDaDlGkUT
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 13, 2020
In Ohio, statewide school closures were scheduled to begin next week and continue until at least Apr. 3.
As of Friday morning, some Pennsylvania school districts were under orders to close from Gov. Tom Wolf. Those orders were expected to expand.
Maryland school officials were preparing for statewide school closures lasting a minimum of two weeks while individual school systems were closed or shutting down in both Kentucky and Virginia as well.
“We’ve got to close the schools,” Governor Justice said during a State Capitol briefing on COVID-19.
All county superintendents were in Charleston to start Friday for a meeting about the pandemic with Clayton Burch, state superintendent of schools, and others.
After that meeting, it was announced all school extracurricular activities were canceled through April 10, at the earliest.
Governor Justice’s announcement came later.
Burch, speaking to reporters after the governor’s announcement, said he learned of today’s closure just moments before the press conference and that local school system leaders would have learned about the decision because of the press conference.
“That was something the governor decided well after I spoke with superintendents,” Burch said.
“They absolutely learned from this meeting right here that school was closed.”
He said the end of each school’s day today would be focused on organizing students, gathering their books and belongings and preparing them for how to communicate with teachers while they are away.
“Having an announcement midday like this, I think you will see districts this afternoon going into motion to prepare those children for what it’s like going home,” Burch said.
“So I think you’ll see a lot of districts asking students to take things home with them, how to stay in contact and then immediately we’re going to double check that we have that communication network so we can communicate with the families beginning Monday.”
Burch said preparations had already started, though, with a particular focus on school cleanliness, distance learning and how to make sure students are fed.
“This morning’s conversations were a lot about contingency plans,” he said. “So we really did talk about preparedness, what does it look like.”
He said the governor “was very concerned about nutrition, he was concerned about schools as a safe haven. We had to let him know we support the decision, but not just that but we have to be prepared to support those families.”
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said the governor made the right decision.
“The health of our students, our educators and our citizens is the most important thing we can do and he made that clear,” Lee said. “Educators across the state will do what we always do: We’ll makes sure our kids are fed, we will pitch in where we need to pitch in and do the things our students need.”
He said teachers have already been preparing by making take-home packets.
“One thing that teachers are really good at is making adjustments to plans,” he said.
On Friday, public schools in Mingo County and Wyoming County were closed because of high water.
Early dismissals were already planned in Monongalia County and Jefferson County to allow teachers and school staff time for additional school cleaning and to prepare instructional materials in case of future school closures because of any potential COVID-19 outbreak.
The start of school days were delayed Friday in Brooke County, Hancock County, Ohio County and Marshall County.