BUCKHANNON – During Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting, BOE members once again addressed the question that is in the forefront of everyone’s mind: What will schools look like as the academic year 2020-2021 begins.
Dr. Jeffery Harvey, Upshur County Schools Director of Safety and Emergency Preparedness, addressed BOE members and gave an update of what the re-entry framework is looking like – just weeks before Upshur County School teachers and personnel are scheduled to return to their jobs for training.
BOE Vice president Katie Loudin and BOE member Kristi Wilkerson had a variety of questions about logistics, including just how the start of school would look and what precautions were in place to assure the safety of students and school personnel.
“Our first priority has to be the health and safety of our students and staff,” Wilkerson said. “I am not yet convinced we are there. I do not think our public understands we could go to other options. Frankly, having more than 1,000 students walk into the high school on Sept. 8 makes me nauseous. I think we need to be clear that no matter what decision we make, we need to take care of our students and our staff.”
Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said she wanted everyone to know that they do not believe anything is off the table at this point regarding the re-entry framework for school.
“We have said from the beginning that our framework has to be responsive to our (COVID-19) numbers and our community,” Stankus said, adding that whatever framework is chosen and however school looks, it must be fluid in order to respond to concerns as they arise.
Stankus said the school-specific frameworks are at the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department and then those will come back from the Health Department to be approved by the BOE before they are shared with the public.
The first option is students attending schools five days a week beginning on Sept. 8. This option allows students to attend school five days a week with the assurance preventive and cleaning measures are in place to increase safety and well-being.
The second option is Virtual Learning with local support. Federal Programs Director Jody Johnson said that parents may elect the virtual school option for the upcoming year for students in first grade through 12th grade.
“We will develop the curriculum and resources to offer this program to pre-K and kindergarten because the West Virginia Virtual Schools does not offer that option,” she said.
Stankus said right now, Upshur County Schools is working with the W.Va. Department of Education to use their teachers instead of the virtual teachers and use their platform.
“Our students will have a local, familiar face when they attend virtual classes,” Stankus said.
Johnson said nearly 500 families have signed up for the virtual learning for the upcoming school year.
She said those opting for virtual learning will receive a device and support will be provided.
“Families will be eligible for weekly meals if they choose virtual learning,” Johnson said. “Anything we offer – sports, band – anything they feel comfortable with, is eligible to them. We are looking to be as flexible and supportive as possible while still maintaining a quality education for all of our students.”
Loudin asked Johnson if a student enters school in-person in the beginning, would that student have to wait until the end of the quarter to change from one framework option to another?
“No, the transition would be easier at the secondary level, but it does not have to be at the quarter,” Johnson said. “It would be what is best for that family at that time.”
“This is true personalization of education,” Stankus said.
“I had one parent ask me if her child could just come into school for one reading class and then leave,” Johnson said. “Yes. If you are concerned about reading instruction and the time of seven or eight hours a day is not going to work for your child, we will work with you on that.”
The third option is homeschooling. This option says families are responsible for purchasing and providing curriculum, education and assessment. Students are not eligible for school nutrition with this option.
A detailed description of each of these options is available on the Upshur County Facebook Page.
Loudin asked that a ‘Frequently Asked Question’ and answer page be created for families. That page is now available on the Upshur County Schools Facebook Page.