After flood, teachers return to Clay County schools Monday; Students are back Thursday

By Shauna Johnson in News
CLAY COUNTY, W.Va. — Some form of normality is what the superintendent of schools in Clay County says he’s hoping his county’s students find as they return to school later this week for the first time since the June 23 flood.

“We’re tickled to death to have the kids back,” said Superintendent Kenneth Tanner ahead of the start of the new school year. “I just want them back in school and to have something that’s normal.”

Teachers were returning to their classrooms Monday. The first day of the new school year for Clay County students is Thursday with preschoolers to follow on Wednesday, Aug. 24.

Unlike at the start of past school years, “The staff can’t just concentrate on getting in my own classroom and getting my things or the principal. They’re still dealing with flood relief,” Tanner said.

Large amounts of donated supplies for both teachers and students awaited sorting and distribution.

“They’re bringing it in big vehicles, small vehicles. Everybody’s helping just however they can and that’s giving us the encouragement and the drive to keep going,” Tanner said of the many donations that have poured into Clay County since the June 23 storms.

Last Friday, more than 2,000 backpacks filled with supplies for Clay County’s students were scheduled to arrive.

“A lot of families were affected by the flood and they will have less at home,” Tanner said of the need among students for such items.

In terms of physical structures, flood damage to Clay County’s six schools was not as extensive as in parts of other counties in the Flood Zone, made up of the 12 counties that were included on the Federal Disaster Declaration.

At H.E. White Elementary School, floodwaters washed away the school entrance and damaged the playground equipment.

Despite that damage, the school site in Bomont was transformed into a flood supply distribution center, a local “epicenter” for relief activities, and the transition back to classroom space will be the focus this week.

Remaining supplies at H.E. White have been or are in the process of being moved to trailers on site for distributions — as needed — at later dates.

Trailers have also been set up at Clay County High School in Clay for supply storage and future distributions. Clay County High was the central hub for the flood response in all of Clay County.

At one point in the flood’s aftermath, members of the National Guard were being housed in the Clay County Middle School gym, also in Clay, along with crews working to demolish flood-damaged homes.

Clay Elementary School was being used for clothing collections. There were times when the clothes were “stacked up to the ball rims in the gym,” Tanner said.

“Almost all of our schools had to be used (for flood relief) because those are the biggest buildings we have in Clay County,” Tanner said. “The community’s good to us, so it’s our responsibility and duty to step up and help the community.”

As students prepare to return to school, road damage could keep some buses from running their full routes but, Tanner said, all of the buses would be on the roads Thursday, getting students to school.

The Clay County High School football team opens the 2016 season on Aug. 26 against Fayetteville. There will no admission charge for the game, Tanner said.

“It’s one little way that we can help the community,” Tanner told MetroNews.

The Panther team has been preparing for the season largely using donated equipment because of locker room and storage room damage, but those players will be in familiar jerseys for the season opener.

At no charge, Gardner’s Dry Cleaning in Charleston professionally cleaned the football jerseys that were made muddy in the flood.

“We’re wearing those jerseys at our opening game,” Tanner said. “We’re going to display them proudly.”