Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Randy West provides an update on the PALS program's move to Buckhannon-Upshur High School. / Photos by Katie Kuba

Board requests to see final plan to transition alternative learning program to high school

BUCKHANNON – Upshur County Board of Education members asked to review a plan to move the transitional/alternative school to Buckhannon-Upshur High School before it’s implemented.

Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Randy West updated the board of education at its meeting Tuesday about plans to move several PALS classrooms – Personalized Alternative Learning Settings classrooms – from the Fred W. Eberle Technical Center and Stockert Youth & Community Center to the high school for the 2023-2024 school year.

PALS is an alternative learning program that students may be referred to for a variety of reasons, including academic, behavioral, social-emotional or attendance. According to previous stories, high-school-aged students enrolled in the program said they were worried the move from the classrooms at FETC and SYCC would harm their ability to succeed.

West said high school administrators hadn’t settled on a location for the three classrooms but did not plan to alter the program in any substantive way. There will be two teachers assigned to each PALS classroom, but their locations have not yet been determined, he said.

“We don’t plan to change very much about the transitional program,” West said. “We’re trying to put all those rooms in one location in the high school so they’re kind of close together so that the teachers can support each other.”

“I just envision it being it a similar program to [how they worked] at Stockert and Fred Eberle here, but just moving it here into our school,” he added. “Community Care is going to be here within the building, and they’re going to provide an additional resource that will give them easy access to all of the supports we have here at the high school, so we don’t have to move them outside of our campus,” West said.

He added that PALS students would attend B-UHS from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., and teachers would be placed on the same lunch and planning period schedules as other instructors.

“We just feel like these changes will create an atmosphere of streamlined cohesiveness and support for the staff, the administrators and students,” West said.

Board member Sherry Dean said she thought the rooms should be located in one insulated area.

“We’re trying to keep them close together,” West said. “There’s two locations we’re considering – one is closer to the office where the pre-K classroom is – and we would convert that to a classroom and use that bathroom for students that we didn’t want to or couldn’t go out into the whole building all the time.

“They would stay there, have their own restroom, and we would bring their meals to them there, and we were trying to find two classrooms close to that,” he added. “We’re still kind of working through that to keep them in the same area so that makes it easier for everybody, and the teachers can support each other.”

West said one of the locations administrators are considering – the pre-K classroom – has an exterior exit and entrance.

“Mr. Sisk (Matthew Sisk, director of school safety and emergency preparedness) is actually coming on Thursday, and we’re going to talk about putting the fob on that door so we can have kids come in and out of the door in the pre-K classroom and there would be a way for them to come in without walking all the way through school,” he said.

West noted the current PALS classroom doesn’t require students to walk through the rest of the school.

Dean said she supported utilizing Community Care of West Virginia at B-UHS as an additional resource for PALS students but didn’t want to expose the students to environments that would worsen the difficulties they were experiencing.

“I just don’t want us to put them somewhere that’s going to cause them issues that complicate what they’re already facing,” Dean said.

Board vice president Jan Craig asked that West return with a finalized plan.

“Could I request that once you have it finalized, you come back again and share it with us?” Craig asked. “I have a number of people who have contacted me with concerns about it – some with praise that we aren’t doing the busing down and all of that, so it’s not all negative – but I think that that way that we could truthfully answer that we’ve seen the rooms and that you’ve thought through all the scenarios.”

West said he would happily bring a finalized plan to the June 13 board meeting and give board members a tour of the classrooms.

Dean said the details of PALS program need to be established from day one of the school year.

“This is very important that this all be ready to go the first day of school – not the second day, not the second week,” she said. “It needs to be ready come the first day of school, so they know where they need to be, they need to know what they need to be doing, and everything’s in place.”

Craig said she wanted to clear up a misconception that FETC had “kicked [the PALS program] out.”

“I think it needs to be made very public that Fred Eberle didn’t kick us out; they’re not renewing our lease because their programs are expanding, and they need that for their own programs,” she said. “It is not like Buckhannon-Upshur High School students did anything wrong there; there weren’t any problems – they just need the space for themselves because space is at a premium.”

Board president Dr. Tammy Samples and board member Daya Wright recommended that West and high school administrators consult with PALS teachers teaching at the FETC and SYCC PALS locations before finalizing a logistical plan for the PALS classrooms.”

“I would also just request that as you move forward – and ultimately, you need to figure out what to do – but we do need to be sure we’re including those teachers in the conversations,” Samples said.

“Absolutely,” West replied.

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