Families explain what factors played into their choice between virtual or blended learning ahead of first day of school

BUCKHANNON – More than 1,000 students in Upshur County Schools are signed up to attend school virtually this fall, meaning they won’t attend in-person classes.

In the re-entry plan for Upshur County Schools, safety was an issue that was addressed from all sides and included new protocols for bus loading and unloading; entering the schools; exiting the schools; mask-wearing and social distancing in the classrooms, hallways and lunchrooms; and disinfecting and cleaning the schools.

Parents faced the difficult decision of selecting between a staggered two-day blended model, which is a mix of in-person lessons and virtual learning, and enrolling their students in an entirely virtual or remote learning model. You can read more here about the models here.

As of Thursday, Sept. 3, in Upshur County, 1,046 students had been enrolled to receive their lessons remotely from their homes, meaning they will not be attending in-person classes. A total of 25 students will be participating in the WV Learns Virtual lessons.

As a family, many tough decisions have had to be made, and consideration has been given to the safety of the children, the safety of family members, time available to help deliver lessons, childcare before and after school and many other aspects of daily life.

My Buckhannon spoke with different people in Upshur County who shared their selection for learning for their students, along with the reasons for selecting those paths.

Upshur County BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples said as the start date for school approaches, she is pleased that the BOE was able to offer a variety of choices for learning this year.

“Families can choose from many options as they make decisions about what is best for their child’s education,” Samples said. “We (as a board of education) did not take these decisions lightly and have worked to make the school environment safe for our students and employees.”

Upshur County BOE Vice President Katie Loudin said her family opted for full-time local remote learning for their oldest son.

“We needed childcare coverage for our two boys and their childcare center is offering a kindergarten through first-grade class for families who chose the full virtual options,” Loudin shared. “We are one set of several families who have selected full-time remote learning, which will bring down the volume of children on buses and in the school buildings.”

Loudin said she knows it is a privilege to have this option.

“We are grateful to have this choice,” Loudin said. “Every family needs to be able to make the best decision for their child. I hope my son will have an opportunity to be in-school with his teacher and classmates at some point this year, just as I hope that for all Upshur County students and school staff.”

BOE member Kristi Wilkerson said she and her husband decided their daughter would not attend school in person in the fall.

“She is registered for the virtual or remote option,” Wilkerson said. “We have gathered a considerable amount of information regarding coronavirus and believe virtual/remote is the safest option for our family.”

Wilkerson said her younger son has asthma, and they do not want to take the chance of anyone in her family contracting COVID-19.

“We want to be as safe and healthy as possible and especially want to protect our son from the virus,” she said. Wilkerson added that she personally knows three different individuals who have contracted COVID-19 and died from the virus.

“I have been deeply troubled and sad upon learning of each person’s passing,” Wilkerson said. “It truly took my breath away. I want my family to do our part in making sure no one else contracts COVID, no one else suffers through this dreadful illness and no one else has to lose a family member or friend because of coronavirus.”

Wilkerson said throughout the last several months, as an elected member of the Upshur County Board of Education, she has maintained her position that student and staff safety ‘has to be the top priority.’

“We had to first figure out how to best offer a safe and healthy environment for students and staff, and then determine the best approach for students to be educated within that safe environment,” she said. “From what I understand, county boards of education are not permitted to have all students be 100 percent remote or virtual, and that only Governor Justice can make that determination. Without that being an option, I believe we have created the safest in-person environment that we can.”

During his virtual press briefing Friday, however, Justice reversed his earlier guidance after Monongalia County had threatened to sue the state for full local control. The governor said Friday that counties will have the option to go fully virtual, but they will have to shut down sports and extracurricular activities if they do so.

Wilkerson said she is glad to be able to offer families the option of 100 percent virtual and remote learning for Upshur County students.

“It is the option my family is most comfortable with, and, therefore, is the option we selected,” she said. “I do understand, however, that it might not be the best option for all families in Upshur County.”

Wilkerson said she commends Upshur County teachers, administrators and staff for the countless hours of work they have dedicated to creating a safe educational environment.

“I recognize this is not an easy time, and I sincerely appreciate everything our Upshur County Schools employees have done to prepare for the new school year,” Wilkerson said. “I encourage all our families, students and staff to practice safety for the health and well-being of all. Please wear facial coverings, use hand sanitizer and wash hands often, and maintain an appropriate physical distance.”

“I do not want to learn of students or staff contracting the virus and I certainly do not want anyone to become severely ill from it,” she added. “The lives of our children, their family members and our staff are too important and significant to risk contracting the virus. We will end these crazy days only by working together and taking appropriate safety precautions.”

Krisie H. Burkey said on Facebook that her daughter would be getting her lessons through remote learning for the time being.

“She is a sophomore and chose not to wear a mask all day. Also, school is only two days in person so how much could she possibly learn in two days?” Burkey asked.

Melanie Gillum said she is opted for sending her children back to school.

“I opted for this because of a lack of reliable internet access at my house,” Gillum said. “I would have preferred them home, so they do not have to wear masks all day, but the options were limited.”

Dakota Snider said her family is sending their son back to school also.

“My husband and I both work so we don’t have much of another option,” Snider said. “He is a very healthy six-year-old who has only needed an antibiotic once since birth. If he were to come in contact with the virus, it would be from one of us anyhow.”

Snider says she works in health care, and her husband is a traveling truck driver.

“We have taught him the importance of cleanliness and hand-washing all summer,” Snider said. “He is super excited to go back to school and thrives with a set schedule. I trust the teachers at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School and have faith in the school system. We all must do what we feel is best for our families.”

Torina Watson said her child will be doing the five-day remote learning and attending trade school.

“In my opinion, this all needs to stop and let kids go to school and be normal,” Watson said. “Elementary kids have to eat breakfast in their classroom (under the current circumstances). I personally do not agree with remote learning on electronics. Kids are not going to learn that way – they already spend too much time on them already.”

Mariah Goldsmith said she agrees with Snider.

“My boys are going back to school (in-person),” Goldsmith said. “They miss their friends and they need to be social. We have worked on wearing masks and making sure to stay germ-free. With as much as I work, and we do not have the best internet where we live, I think this will be best.”

My Buckhannon wishes all families a healthy and safe school year.

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