BUCKHANNON – On Wednesday evening, the Upshur County Board of Education will be meeting in a special session where a topic great interest – school re-entry – will be the topic of discussion. And this time, the BOE could take action.
The main decision facing the BOE is how education will be delivered in Upshur County Schools starting as of Jan. 19, 2021, the re-entry date announced Dec. 30, 2020, by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.
My Buckhannon sat down with Dr. Jeffery Harvey, Upshur County Schools Director of School Safety and Emergency Preparedness, to see what preparations have been made prior to that Wednesday meeting and the Jan. 19 start date.
On Tuesday, Harvey said with schools going back next week, everyone realizes that Upshur County Schools’ situation regarding a shortage of substitutes is not a unique problem.
“Everybody is looking for substitutes and folks like that to help support staffing in their system, whether that’s in a COVID or non-COVID environment,” Harvey said. “We have had some baseline efforts in place for recruiting. What we have done in response to the COVID environment is to accelerate some of those efforts.”
Harvey explained that there have been some changes in the eligibility requirements which allow people who have reached a certain point in their education to serve as substitute teachers.
“We have put some additional recruiting materials out to some of our partners to try and grab some folks in that way,” he said. “We have made some hires, and we have been increasing our substitute ranks through the hiring process.”
These substitutes include substitute aides, teachers, cooks, bus operators and custodians. Harvey said they have also looked at what they can do to try and help out people who need to quarantine.
“These plans are underway and have gotten approval, and we work with our building administrators to allow folks who are not sick to be able to teach from home. That way, they can keep that learning up with their students so long as they are able to do that,” Harvey said. “People may be on quarantine that are just contacts. If those individuals can continue to work, then we are working with them and their building administrators on a way to make that happen.”
What that means is, if students are in school in-person and are in a classroom environment with someone watching them, they can be connected with their classroom teacher virtually, who will deliver the lessons until that instructor’s quarantine period is completed.
“We tried to look at a few creative solutions in that sense,” Harvey said. “We recognize these things are not fool-proof, but we want to assure the community that we are trying to take some of these issues into account. They remain variables – they remain concerning variables – but we are trying to fill that gap as best we can.”
Originally, COVID-19 quarantines were mandated at 14 days. Harvey said now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has three different options.
“You can do a quarantine period of seven days with a negative test on Day Five; if you are a straight quarantine, you can return after 10 days as long as you have had no symptoms; and the preferred quarantine time, which is 14 days,” Harvey said. “But personnel do have the other two options. We continue to work with the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department with their recommendations on some of those. Some cases are just unique, but that is the basic CDC guidance and that should help with some of those quarantine constraints, but, again, we do work together with the health department on that.”
Harvey said when students return to in-person education, each school plan to be consistent with the use of screening questions for COVID-19.
“We have allowed schools to be able to step it up a little bit if they want to, as Buckhannon Academy Elementary School did with the temperature checks,” he said. “Academy has been successful in that effort, and they have been good to share their best practices if any of their partner schools would like to take that on.”
Harvey said there has been a lot of input from families and personnel.
“That input has been both in favor of continued precautionary measures in an extreme sense clear up through, ‘it’s time to bring everybody back to school regardless,’” he said. “The level of involvement and participation has been wonderful. It was a good process to bring comments in, for us to educate ourselves and for us to have an opportunity to talk about some things collectively – I think this has been great. Some folks have realized that there are a few other things they did not know and now they know. We have realized the same – that process has been positive.”
He commended families that have been engaged with them and the personnel who have been engaged with administration regarding re-entry.
“It has been appreciated,” Harvey said.