North Pike officials took steps to contend with a prolonged school shutdown amid the coronavirus outbreak that has turned classrooms and campuses into ghost towns for the past two weeks — and for weeks to come.
In a special meeting Friday, trustees formally closed school through April 17 in compliance with a recent order from Gov. Tate Reeves and outlined a work schedule for school employees as campuses remain closed to students and the public.
School officials also announced they’ll be sending assignments home to students and will begin distributing meals throughout the district beginning Monday.
Superintendent Dennis Penton said students will be expected to keep up with their classwork while school is closed.
“We have some learning opportunities out there,” he said. “We will be sending out some new material.”
Penton said the lessons will be distributed on paper copies weekly and district officials are going on the assumption that not all students in the rural district have access to broadband internet or cellular data.
Students will not be required to turn in their work.
“We’re not going to be taking any of it back in,” Penton said, citing public health precautions. “At this time, none of this work will be graded.”
The work will be distributed on buses and at meal distribution sites.
Beginning Monday, school officials will be distributing meals from school buses at seven locations throughout the district, beginning at 10:30 to 11 a.m. Meals will be given out for 30 minutes or as supplies last.
The locations are:
• J.C. Lewis Trailer Park.
• Pike County Health Department
• Pricedale One Stop.
• Summit Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 2, Highway 98 West.
• Friendship Volunteer Fire Department, Friendship community.
• Friendship Volunteer Fire Department, Felder’s Campground.
• Holmesville Baptist Church.
Penton said employees will be wearing masks and gloves during meal distributions.
Trustees also approved a motion to declare all employees essential in order for them to continue to work on campus.
“This week, everyone will work two half days, but on a rotating basis so we can avoid having more than 10 people in one place at any one time,” Penton said. “My hope is we get to where every employee has to work the minimal amount in order for us to get the mission accomplished. We’re going to try to limit exposure to all personnel.”
High-risk employees, including those with medical conditions and those who are caretakers for the elderly, will not be required to come into work but can work from home.
Penton said the district will no longer have large meetings and will restrict attendance to no more than 10 people in accordance with new federal health guidelines.
There were just seven people attending Friday’s noon meeting, including Penton, three other district employees, trustees Scott Campbell and Freddie Deer and an Enterprise-Journal reporter. Newly appointed Trustee Chris Richardson voted by phone.
Richardson asked about the potential effects of operations, should a state-mandated lockdown similar to what’s been implemented in California be ordered.
“Everything is subject to change. It has changed vastly in other past week,” Penton said.
Trustees also approved an administrative leave policy that was originally put in place three years ago after a winter storm led to a prolonged shutdown. Penton said this will allow the district to continue to pay its employees.
“It pays everybody who is considered an employee, but not substitutes,” he said.
In another matter, Deer asked about how the shutdown would affect a deadline for the district to spend bond money associated with a massive construction project.
“We’ve got a lot of deadlines that they’ve been moving back,” Penton said. “Spending money is going to be difficult when the services that you need to spend money on are unavailable.”
Penton said these are unusual times for public schools and the public at large, but he believes the school district has a valuable mission to fill.
“The one thing I would like everybody to remember is we’re public servants and in a time of crisis, public servants continue to serve,” he said. “Without public servants, everything falls apart and our society needs some semblance of normalcy.
“We still have things that we’ve been mandated to do. We cannot do those without minimal employee interaction. Our employees, they want to continue to educate the children the best they can. They still want to provide meals and I think those are two essentials functions of the district. We are a focal point of the community. School districts perform a stabilizing effect.”