BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Board of Education confirmed their re-entry framework during Tuesday’s meeting and voted for a model that will give students two days per week in the classroom and three days of virtual learning.
However, that decision still hangs on Governor Jim Justice’s final determination regarding an in-person, remote or virtual format, which he has said he’ll issue by Sept. 1, 2020 depending on the status of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Upshur County Schools Director of Safety and Emergency Preparedness Dr. Jeffery Harvey said there are no active COVID-19 cases in Upshur County currently. However, he noted that a lot could change between now and the slated start of school on Sept. 8.
The re-entry framework has three options — a full five-day week in schools, an entirely virtual schedule, and a modified version that is a combination of the two. Ultimately, the Upshur County Board of Education opted for the modified schedule and debated two versions of that plan, both of which involve two days per week of classroom time and three days of virtual learning.
The main difference between Model A and Model B is whether or not the two days of in-school attendance are consecutive or ‘staggered,’ i.e. attending Monday and Tuesday (Model A) or Monday and Thursday (Model B).
Model A called for students with the last names beginning with letters A to L to attend in-person school on Monday and Tuesday while completing remote learning on Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays.
Under Model A, those students with last names beginning with letters M to Z would attend in-person school on Thursday and Friday while participating in remote learning Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Model B, also called the ‘Two Days Staggered’ version, would mean students having last names beginning with A to L would attend in person Monday and Thursday, and those students with last names beginning with M to Z would attend in person on Tuesday and Friday.
Under both plans, students in grades 3-12 would be required to wear face coverings when physical distancing is not possible. The board is recommending but not mandating that students in grades pre-K through 2 wear face coverings in the classrooms and requiring them to do so when moving through buildings.
BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond made a motion to accept Model B, and vice president Katie Loudin seconded the motion. BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples, Almond and Loudin voted in favor of Model B while BOE members Kristi Wilkerson and Pat Long opposed the motion, which passed with the vote of 3-2.
Re-entry plans from each West Virginia county are due in the West Virginia Department of Education Office by Friday, Aug. 14, a deadline announced during Justice’s update on education on Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Two delegations addressed the BOE regarding the re-entry framework. Travis Radabaugh spoke first, saying he had students in Union Elementary, B-UMS and B-UHS.
“I looked at this re-entry plan, and I have to ask myself, ‘Why?’” Radabaugh said. “It seems to me there are a lot of issues that arise including an increased cost, and the biggest thing to look at here is how effectively are we not contaminating students?”
Radabaugh said he thinks when alternating students during the week, cross-contamination of germs that could be spread by both students and teachers is a risk, adding that another big issue he sees is that many bus drivers have other jobs where they get their income to pay their bills. He said bus drivers often use their position with the school system for benefits, such as health insurance.
“This will put bus drivers in a position where they may have to decide if they want to keep their job that pays the bills or do they keep the job that provides them with benefits,” he said.
Another point Radabaugh raised was that parents need to work and there are not sufficient daycare options for students who don’t attend each day.
Tony and Amanda Miller told BOE members they have a blended family and part of their children’s last names begin with ‘L’ and the others ‘M,’ which means their children will be going to school on different days and each day will include remote learning – which puts them at a hardship.
“We have five children,” Tony Miller said. “Both of us work – we are both essential – and have worked every day, and our situation has been challenging. We are for children going back to school five days a week. The children need it for various reasons.”
Amanda said as she looked around the room, many people were on their cellphones.
“We can’t keep adults on task – do you think we can keep students on task when they can put their teacher on mute and play on their cellphones?” Amanda asked. “I don’t feel like my children can get a quality education at home.”
Amanda Miller said during the last semester with remote learning, her high school student and middle school student had zero contacts from their teachers, while her elementary school student had at least two Zoom teacher contacts each week.
Harvey said the re-entry framework blends in-school learning with remote learning in the home. With only half the students present at any one time, crowd sizes are reduced, and the plan also allows for enhanced cleaning.
“It includes all of the cleaning measures, PPE measures and dealing with a smaller student body,” Harvey said. “We have to be sensitive with what the governor decides.”
Harvey said the educators preferred the two-day staggered plan – Model B – because there is less consecutive time away from school for the students, which could help with material retention. However, he said families tend to prefer having two days in school back-to-back.
Harvey added they had talked about a waiver option for families who have students with multiple last names, allowing them to attend school on the same day, as well as waiver options for parents who have internet difficulties and childcare issues.
Loudin thanked Harvey and his group for their hard work and thanked the delegations for sharing their concerns.
“I am not so sure that our governor is not going to take us remote,” Loudin said. “He said he would make that decision before Sept. 1.”
Loudin said she believes teachers want the staggered days so if students have questions, they can ask those questions during the same week.
“I see the merit in this, but does it cause too much cross-contamination and allow enough time?” Loudin asked.
Student Services Director Jodie Akers said they are currently working with bus drivers to figure out the best plan for transporting students and whether there will need to be two bus runs, as well as how those schedules should look.
Akers said the bus drivers will be back on Friday, talks will continue and plans will be made with their input.
“Our number one priority is safety,” Akers said.