Photo: Pictured above, a meeting room in Gadsden State Community College’s newly renovated Allen Hall sits vacant as students and educators prepare to deal with school closures throughout Etowah County in response to COVID-19.
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
Following Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s declaration of a state of emergency in regard to the impending Coronavirus (COVID-19), all K-12 public schools throughout the state closed on March 18 in the hopes of reopening on April 6.
During the closures, local administrators and staff are dedicating themselves to ensuring Etowah County students remain safe without compromising their health or education.
Attalla City Schools implemented closures on Tuesday, March 17. Parents of students with medications at school were encouraged to contact their school nurses to arrange for pick-ups if their child’s medication was needed at home.
Attalla City Schools Superintendent Jeff Colegrove assured community members that Attalla City Schools will provide meal kits to all children 18 years old and younger. On Thursday, March 19 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., meal kit pick-ups were available. A drive-through pick up occurred at the Etowah Middle School lunchroom where parents and children received meal kits on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“We value the health and well-being of our students,” said Colegrove. “Our first priority as a school district is to provide a safe, healthy environment for your child to learn.”
Beginning Wednesday, March 18, all Attalla City Schools athletics and extracurricular activities will be cancelled. During this time, no contests, weight training, conditioning, practices or any related activities will be conducted. Activities and athletics will resume Monday, April 6. Etowah High School rescheduled its prom to an unspecified date in May.
Effective immediately and through April 30, all field trips are cancelled. While some field trips will be rescheduled and others will not, parents and students are encouraged to contact their local school administrator and teachers that are conducting the field trips for specific details.
Colegrove stated that during the absence, schools may send home packets or implement online activities to assist with the learning process, but all at-home work is optional and no school work is required. Parents are urged to ensure their children remain engaged in some form of learning during the closure period.
“We want you to know that we are following the guidance of the Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama Department of Education and our local Gadsden and Etowah County Emergency Management Agency in dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19),” said Colegrove. “Please be patient and understanding as we are working on the details as quickly and thoroughly as possible. During these difficult times, it is important that we all work together to keep our students safe. We will continue to update information as it is received.”
Westbrook Christian School Administrator Cindy Greer ensured parents and students that Westbrook will follow the CDC, ADPH and the governor’s office guidelines regarding when the school will reopen. Westbrook staff created written instruction and assignment packets for parents and students and emailed parents information concerning online instruction while students are at home. Westbrook hosted a drive-through pick-up for parents to collect packets and gain more information on Tuesday, March 17 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Westbrook educators have access to school-owned Chromebooks and iPads for online instruction that are equipped with Google Classroom, Zoom conferences and other resources needed for at-home learning. While Westbrook does not have any students who are on free or reduced meal plans, Greer assured community members that Westbrook will share milk with local public schools to designate to its students.
“[During the closure] we believe it is very important to continue the learning process,” said Greer.
Episcopal Day School administrator Laura McCartney stated that Episcopal elementary, middle and high school students will participate in distance learning after spring break on March 30. While working from home, Episcopal teachers will rely heavily on Google Classroom to present lessons and collect homework. McCartney distributed information for parents to familiarize themselves and their students with Google Classroom.
“We feel as prepared as we can possibly be [during this situation],” said McCartney. “We feel very hopeful that everything [we are doing] will work for us.”
Following the Diocese of Birmingham, St. James Catholic School in Gadsden will implement state guidelines concerning its response to COVID-19. Head administrator Michelle Adams reported that all St. James students received assignments and books to complete schoolwork during the closure. Despite expecting to return on April 6, St. James sent home an extra week of schoolwork to ensure that its students do not fall behind, should further closures ensue.
While St. James teachers are worried for their students, they are dedicated to keeping the school’s website updated, remaining in contact with parents via email and cleaning the classrooms and school.
“We are praying for everyone [during this time],” said Adams.
Etowah County Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby discussed the school system’s plan to distribute free meals to students via predetermined pick-up points and times. Eleven schools will serve as designated sites during the closures: Gaston High School, Hokes Bluff Elementary School, Glencoe Middle School, Rainbow Middle School, Southside High School, West End High School, Ivalee Elementary School, Duck Springs, Highland Elementary School, Carlisle Elementary School and Sardis High School. The CNP staff is currently working to shift stock between lunchrooms to ensure that each location has an adequate supply of items.
“We are continually monitoring the situation,” said Cosby.
Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick attested that Gadsden City Schools will follow instructions and recommendations handed down from the governor’s office and the Alabama State Department of Education. Gadsden City Schools intend to close and seal every school building, allowing access to emergency personnel only until further notice. In the instance that the Coronavirus should appear prevalent in any buildings in Gadsden City Schools, due to the virus’ nine-day lifespan, the complete shutdown should prevent any compromise regarding infection or re-infection.
Principals and faculty at each school have provided opportunities for students to engage in online enrichment activities for the duration of the shutdown, although the state department will not allow penalization for failure to engage. Throughout the ordeal, the GCS maintenance and janitorial staffs will work diligently to provide sanitation resources and maintain cleanliness throughout the system. Reddick reported that Woods Transportation maintained a route of sanitizing buses on a daily basis and the central office staff will maintain electronic communication with all principals, who will contact their respective staff.
While school is not in session, the GCS child nutrition staff remains determined to provide to its best ability as many necessary meals for students at alternative locations. Reddick assured GCS students and parents that dates and times regarding meal pick-ups will be advertised as soon as possible. For organizations and churches that wish to donate or volunteer, Reddick welcomes participation.
Gadsden State Community College President Dr. Martha Lavender announced that Gadsden State and all its campuses will transition to online or alternative instruction for all courses from March 17 to April 3. Students enrolled in on-campus courses are instructed not to visit campus during this time.
Until further notice, all GSCC events are cancelled. Prior to April 3, college administrators will issue a statement concerning in-person classes and campus events after re-evaluating the situation.
Instructional delivery will be discipline dependent and Lavender urges students to monitor their campus email accounts for official information and school-related updates. Students will be contacted by their instructors to clarify methods of instruction and future plans for each course.
Modified business schedules are currently in effect at all campuses, with limited staffing implemented. Students are encouraged to conduct GSCC business online, email or via phone at when possible. Despite the closure, online summer registration will take place as scheduled, with services and support for registration available online and via email. If advisement is necessary, students are directed to contact their advisors by email and seek guidance for any unforeseen technical issues at firstname.lastname@example.org. As recommended, Lavender reminds students and faculty to practice social distancing and self-quarantine if symptomatic as well as routine proper hygiene. GSCC implemented a specific and thorough cleaning and sanitizing plan developed for COVID-19 that is currently underway.
“There have been no reports of Coronavirus on any of Gadsden State’s five campuses,” said Lavender. “We are implementing alternative methods of instruction and modifying our schedule in an effort to protect the health and safety of our students. Spring break will be observed as planed March 23-27.”
Etowah County educators, administrators and staff commit themselves to protecting their students each day. The COVID-19 pandemic proves no different, with school systems countywide establishing precautionary measures to promote informative decisions and calmness in the face of worry. Though schools are closed, the determination to nurture students’ growth academically and to influence students’ lives for the better remains in constant operation, to foster hope and optimism when they are needed most.
“We remain in prayer that ‘this too shall pass,’ and there will be limited damage if any at all,” said Reddick. “[We remain in prayer] that we will soon awaken from this ‘educational coma’ and return as soon as possible to what we love: educating our children.”