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Martinsville schools in the 'hot zone' and will remain all virtual
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Martinsville schools in the 'hot zone' and will remain all virtual

From the Martinsville-region COVID-19/coronavirus daily update from state, nation and world: Oct. 14 series
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Despite Henry County and Patrick County schools' moving ahead with hybrid learning plans, Martinsville City Schools will remain exclusively in a virtual learning environment for an indefinite time because the continued spread of the coronavirus.

"We are still in the hot zone," Martinsville School Superintendent Zebedee Talley told the school board at its regular meeting Monday night. "We are monitoring this every day, but we're not out of the water, and for whatever reason this area is in a hot zone right now."

Henry County's students returned to classes on Monday on a hybrid schedule, but Meadow View Elementary remained closed because  of cases of COVID-19 found in relation to the school.

There were 10 new cases of COVID-19 and two deaths in Henry County and Martinsville reported Tuesday by the Virginia Department of Health.

Martinsville's school board had said last month that it would wait until the end of the first nine weeks to determine future steps toward resuming in-school classes, but Talley's report left that decision-making window open indefinitely.

He told school board members that assessments after the first nine weeks of this school year show their has been "very little learning loss" with students remaining at home.

"We're in solid shape, and our kids are doing well," Talley said.

Because virtual learning is done remotely, Talley noted with the winter months ahead the much anticipated "snow day" no longer exists.

"On snow days, we can do virtual," Talley said. "The only thing that will keep us from learning is a power loss."

With an usually wet summer, Martinsville residents have been subjected to numerous power outages recently primarily because of trees and tree limbs falling on power lines.

Martinsville Council member Danny Turner has frequently criticized the city owned electrical system as antiquated with decreasing reliability.

City officials attribute most of the outages to trees out of the right of way and not within their control.

The number of Martinsville students without internet connectivity at home is down to 18%, and Talley said the district continues to reduce the number primarily by providing MiFi devices to students without service.

A MiFi device uses cellular data to connect to the internet and will work as long cellular service reaches the home.

The device is not intended for extended connection times but provides a means for limited learning or downloading material to be studied offline.

"We continue to work with the city and its internet service [MiNet]," Talley said. "It's all still in progress."

Bullying Prevention Month

October has been designated as Bullying Prevention Month by the Virginia School Board Association.

Director of Pupil Personnel Felicia Preston presented to the school board what the district is doing to help prevent bullying.

Announcements were sent out the first week of the month describing opportunities for students to show empathy, kindness and friendship on a virtual page.

"We are creating a schoolwide bulletin board to display all the work [created by the students]," Preston said. "The week of Oct. 26 will be red-ribbon-week when we focus on ending hate and changing the culture."

Each school is encouraged to designate a day for students, teachers and parents to wear blue-colored clothing expressing intent to be "unified in the cause."

FY21 student handbook

The new Student Expectation Handbook was distributed to school board members. Talley said a copy would be provided to every student and become a part of each student's file.

"There are several pages to be signed," Talley said. "The principals will collect these pages and keep in each student's record."

Talley noted the handbook is distributed annually and normally at the beginning of the year, but the pandemic delayed production of the handbook this year, and it is mostly unchanged from last school year.

Special Education Advisory Committee

Executive Director of Special Education and Student Services Paulette Simington presented to the board a list of 12 parents, teachers and community volunteers for appointment to a Special Education Advisory Committee, which would identify unmet needs of students with disabilities, advise the administration of their findings and assist in developing ways to meet the newly discovered needs.

The list was approved, and those appointed are:

Parent Representatives: Annie Via, Katina Smith, Derick and Staci Soper, Marely Cobbs and Amanda Richardson.

Teacher Representative: Special Education Teacher Kristin Jenkins

Agency Representatives: Shermale Motley, Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services; Teresa Hooper, Amy Greer and Shannon Clark, Piedmont Community Services; Pamela Cobler, Disability Rights and Resource Center's community advocate; and Scott Guebert, disability counselor at Patrick Henry Community College.

New appointments

The board approved appointments of Bonnie Mitchell, bus driver; Mark Dixon, maintenance at Martinsville High School; Shatera Robertson, school nurse coordinator; and Meghan Turner, paraprofessional.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

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