BUCKHANNON – The vice president of the Upshur County Board of Education this week asked why the board of education was not consulted about the Upshur County Schools Re-Entry Advisory Council’s decision to remain in the blended model for the rest of 2020.
At Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, BOE vice president Katie Loudin inquired about the School Re-entry Advisory Council’s decision on Nov. 5 to remain on the blended model through the end of the calendar year.
“I was actually a little surprised that did not come back to this board,” Loudin said. “I thought we agreed to the blended model through the first nine weeks. It’s not changed, so I do not really have a problem with that, but as we move toward, perhaps, something different – depending on the cases – I would love to have a more comprehensive report from that task force before we make a decision about the second semester.”
On Nov. 5, Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus sent out a press release on behalf of the re-entry council stating, “Upshur County Schools will remain on a blended operational model through the remainder of the 2020 Calendar Year. Students will continue to attend in-person school as part of Group A on Mondays and Thursdays or Group B on Tuesdays and Fridays. School will continue to dismiss at 2:00 p.m., and Wednesdays will remain full-time remote for instruction.”
“This decision follows the recommendation of the Upshur County Schools Re-Entry Advisory Council, which has been meeting since just after the mid-point of the first nine-week term,” the press release continued. “The blended model will continue through the end of the calendar year, and the central office, board of education, and the Re-entry Advisory Council will continue to meet to develop an outline of what school will look like after the holiday break in January.”
Upshur County Schools Director of School Safety and Emergency Preparedness Dr. Jeffery Harvey said the Upshur BOE would “absolutely” be involved in future decisions regarding instruction methods and return to school after the holidays in January 2021.
Loudin said BOE members wanted to examine all the information prior to making a decision going forward.
“I would just like to have a deeper dive into that before we make decisions,” Loudin said.
“I think the reason we did it that was twofold,” Harvey replied. “One, we needed to get something out about the second nine weeks. I think if we were proposing a different change, we would have had a different pecking order in that particular conversation. We said we want to say what is happening through the second nine weeks and keep on meeting and get some different ideas to present for the second semester. We will want to be more closely mimicking the process we did originally.”
Harvey said the Re-Entry Advisory Council had a great discussion last week.
“We talked about not only what options will look like from now until the end of the school year, but we really dove in on the notion of connection and not just thinking about what happens in our buildings with respect to our response and ultimate recovery of COVID, but what we could do as stewards for Upshur County in general,” Harvey said. “I was really pleased with that discussion – excited about that discussion – and I was able to get the latest draft of the re-entry plan that kind of outlines those things disseminated today.”
Harvey said they did take under advisement what that group had recommended.
“[The recommendation was to] stay in the blended model through the end of the calendar year and then look at how we can return in gradual chunks – situation contingent, of course, after the turn of the calendar year. We will start talking with some of our building administrators about what those groups will look like,” Harvey said.
Next, Harvey shared the COVID-19 numbers as they relate to Upshur County Schools, saying in total, there are 12 positive confirmed active cases and 44 people who are on quarantine.
“What is nice about that number is, we have seen some declines relative to the outbreak we had a couple of weeks ago,” Harvey shared. “Unfortunately, we have some situations out in the county that are not directly related to us that have that quarantine number up higher.”
The building-by-building breakdown as of Tuesday, Nov. 10 includes:
- Four people in quarantine at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School
- Two active cases and 14 on quarantine at B-UHS (three of those 14 are also Fred Eberle students)
- One active case and five on quarantine at B-UMS
- One active case at Fred Eberle with 10 on quarantine
- Two on quarantine at French Creek Elementary School
- One active case and two on quarantine at Hodgesville Elementary School
- No known cases at Rock Cave Elementary School
- One active case and three on quarantine at Tennerton Elementary School
- Three active cases and two on quarantine at Union Elementary School
- No known cases at Washington District Elementary School
- Two active cases and none on quarantine in the Transportation Department
- One substitute on quarantine
- One administrator case and one administrator on quarantine
Loudin asked whether COVID was in the schools as an outbreak or if the cases were caused by community spread from other places.
“How are we dealing with and making sure we have substitute coverage where teachers may be impacted with [COVID-19 positive] family members having to be at home?” Loudin asked. “At what point would we decide schools could not be open because we don’t have enough substitute coverage?”
Harvey said at this juncture, it is challenging.
“You are right to say some of our quarantine issues are not related to our people being on quarantine,” Harvey answered. “They have other family members they have to care for and those family members cannot be home alone. We have some second-order impacts.”
He said there are several options that include temporary consolidation of classrooms, but said they have to be careful on that because they do not want to nullify what is good about the blended model with its lower numbers.
Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said principals in the buildings face this issue annually during flu season.
“We have a nationwide shortage of substitutes,” she said, “but principals know how to handle this. If they tell us they are at the point where they do not have substitutes, then certainly, we will do something different. But right now, we will ask teachers to cover, and we will pay them for their planning period and use different methods to cover the classes.”
Harvey said in non-COVID related news, he has been working with Lewis County on the second of three COPS grants.
“That is the one for the electronic external monitoring upgrades,” he said. “That has been advertised and we have walk-throughs scheduled on the 24th and 25th of November. Potentially bidders can walk through the buildings and get their best bids put together.”
Harvey said he is working on some retraining and replanning because there are so many new faces in some of the offices. He said flip charts are finally out.
Also, during Tuesday’s BOE meeting, Upshur County Schools Facility Director Tim Derico reported a problem at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School, where work continues to fix a boiler.
“As we did our annual service three weeks ago, there were some issues found with the flue and old chimney,” Derico shared, adding that this only affected the old section of the school near Smithfield Street. “The flue or chimney would not draw properly: As they did their service and their test, the carbon monoxide levels were elevated, so they shut it down until we could get a draft on the flue.”
Derico said Superior Environmental removed asbestos.
“The insulation around the exhaust pipes for the boiler were wrapped in asbestos. That has been abated and taken care of and on Thursday, there will be a fan to make it draw properly. By the end of next week, it will be resolved completely and taken care of. Getting heat to that portion of the building is dependent on that boiler,” Derico said.
BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples asked about the temperatures dropping and how they planned to keep kids, teachers and staff warm if the temperature drops. Derico said there are some portable heaters they can employ.
Next, Quinten Oldaker and Kayla Yocum of the Upshur County Schools Technology Department said they were very excited for about the Upshur County Schools’ new website and app.
“Our domain will remain UpshurSchools.com so it is familiar with our families,” Yocum said. “This will keep our staff, students, family members and community informed as well.”
Yocum said each school has their own page that is being monitored by principals and staff. She said there is a letter that will be going home to families that will give directions for downloading the new app.
“We are super excited that this has been launched, and we are ready to stay connected with our community, families and students,” Yocum said. “The app is available by searching Upshur County Schools.”
Oldaker said the app is a work in progress and will continue to be updated.
“We wanted to push it out to get the app out to our families as quickly as possible,” he said. “It will make it easier for our families.”
Samples said she was just looking at the menu in the app and asked where the link was on the app for the Board of Education. Oldaker said it would be added in soon.
Oldaker then spoke about KidsConnect, the initiative started by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice which provides free internet.
“There are more than 900 places across the state where students can go to access the internet, which include schools, public libraries, universities and other locations,” Oldaker said. “Currently, we are working with the state to get our site at the BOE Central Office online. All the sites at our schools are up and running, as well as the county libraries including Brooks Hill. The Brushy Fork Event Center, the Armory, will be set up with internet as well.”
Oldaker showed signs for KidsConnect and said if kids can see the sign, they should be able to access the internet. However, if students cannot see the signs, they need to drive around the school until they can see the sign to connect to the internet. All access points are on the outside of the school and service is available from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., he added.
Yocum said the state is continuously working to expand and add more sites for KidsConnect internet.
“Right now, they are working at the BOE Office (to install KidsConnect internet), then they will move to the fire departments,” Yocum said, adding that it is also available in state parks across West Virginia.
Check out My Buckhannon to read about the awards presented to Upshur County teachers, staff and students during Tuesday’s BOE meeting.
The next Upshur County BOE meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.