CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- No clean water has meant no school for students across several West Virginia districts in recent weeks, and for some, no school also meant no food.
"That's why every provision has been made to adjust menus to use filtered, packaged water to prepare a quality hot meal -- instead of just serving cold lunches -- for the hardest hit, who really need a nutritious meal now," said Diane Miller, executive director of food and nutrition for Kanawha County Schools, the state's largest district.
About 60 percent of public school students in West Virginia qualify for free or reduced-priced meals at school. Throughout the state, schools sometimes will open in the evening, despite snow days, so they can serve students a free meal.
But in this case, in which a chemical spill into the Elk River -- and the water supply -- forced schools to close for six days, that option was too big of a risk, Miller said.
"There was so much uncertainty -- about the water usage and the protocol to go through for health inspections . . . ," she said. "That wasn't done only because there was so much uncertainty about the cleanliness of our kitchens after contamination."
Thursday was the first day students in Kanawha County have attended class (although it was a two-hour delay) since Jan. 9. Schools were on a two-hour delay again Friday. In addition to the water crisis, which forced a water-use ban in nine counties, the area was slammed with multiple snow days, meaning Thursday was the fourth day students have attended class since they returned from Christmas Break on Jan. 2 -- and two of those for were on two-hour delays.
At Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School in Charleston, all students receive free meals. Ninety-three percent of the school's more than 500 students come from low-income families.
While most schools' doors were closed in the midst of the water crisis and during recent freezing temperatures, Mary C. Snow Principal Mellow Lee was at school, along with several teachers, collecting and distributing food.
That's because many of Lee's students depend on the meals provided to them at school, she said.
"The majority of that time off -- including on Saturday -- my staff helped collect and hand out nonperishable items and water to a lot of our families," Lee said. "A lot of our families were there every day to pick things up, until we ran out."