BUCKHANNON – Members of the Upshur County Board of Education voted unanimously for students to return to in-person instruction four days a week starting Monday, March 1, and that plan is still in place — for now — despite objections from the state to the daily 2 p.m. dismissal.
Upshur County’s decision came Tuesday evening, just hours after the West Virginia State Board of Education met and voted to mandate that all West Virginia elementary and middle schools reopen five days per week. However, counties that offer both in-person and remote instruction can use one day per week for fully remote learning, which Upshur County has opted to do.
“Counties that are utilizing classroom teachers to teach both in-person students and full-time students participating in locally designed virtual programs may submit a waiver request to the state superintendent to request the ability to conduct in-person instruction four days per week to allow sufficient time to support full-time virtual students,” according to the official motion approved by the state.
The Upshur decision applies to all grade levels, with Wednesday being remote-only.
The issue raised by the state concerns the county’s desire to continue dismissing students at 2 p.m., which caused the West Virginia Board of Education to deny the waiver in its current form.
Upshur County knew the state was leery of the early dismissal, but said it is important because it gives local teachers a chance to connect with the more than 900 students taking classes remotely.
“The state is not keen on the 2 p.m. dismissal,” Director of School Safety and Emergency Preparedness Dr. Jeffery Harvey told board members Tuesday. “However, it is important because some of our teachers use that time to interface with their full-time remote students, and that would create an issue. It would also affect our ability to be able to think of ways to provide a duty-free lunch and a planning period.”
Harvey said have local teachers interact with remote students has always been a priority for the school board.
“That is a local resource we are providing to local families,” he said. “That was very important to us in the beginning of this process – if you opted to go full-time remote, you would have an Upshur County teacher.”
Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Stankus said the Upshur County Board of Education is planning to hold an emergency meeting Monday, March 1 to address the state’s objection to the early dismissal.
“Right now, we’re going to go forward as posted before — four days a week and have a 2 p.m. dismissal until we can get a plan together,” Stankus told My Buckhannon early Thursday evening. “The board is going to have an emergency meeting Monday.”
Stankus confirmed the state BOE had denied the county’s request for a waiver and had given them two options – attend in-person four days a week, all day or attend in-person five days a week with an early dismissal.
“We just need to get together to figure out what’s best for our students, because we have to consider our 900 remote students,” Stankus said.
On Tuesday, Harvey said he met with the re-entry advisory council last week to discuss the plan.
“The purpose of that meeting was to give the spotlight to our building administrators,” Harvey said. “As we said in January, we would need to get to a point in mid-February where we needed to decide what the plan would be for a return to four-day instruction. That is what they presented.”
Harvey said the meeting focused on grades K-5, but the plan was updated to include all grade levels following the state’s mandate.
Under the new plan, the only school to use the color-coded alert map will be the high school, which will move to remote-only if Upshur County is red.
“If the map turns red today, there would be no attendance at Buckhannon-Upshur High School tomorrow, and classes would resume when the county gets out of the red designation,” Harvey said.
The plan keeps the current 2 p.m. dismissal in place, at least for now.
BOE member Pat Long asked Harvey if schools needed to wait for the approval of the waiver.
Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus told Long she had already sent an email requesting a waiver and received an application that she planned to submit to the state first thing Wednesday morning.
“We were told since we developed our own remote learning program and our teachers were leading that learning, we could apply for a four-day in-person learning waiver and we would be granted that, so I do not see any problems,” Stankus said.
Harvey highlighted some of the prevention measures being utilized to help keep staff and students safe. Elementary schools have added an extra lunch shift or are looking at bringing in limited grade levels at the same time to get more space between the groups. Harvey said students are not six feet apart, but more like three-feet-plus.
In some of the schools, students will be having lunch in their classrooms. At B-UMS, tables in the cafeteria will be placed on the stage as well as outside of the cafeteria to help space students during meals.
“We will be using face coverings in all of our buildings at all times,” Harvey said. “Kids are doing a great job with it. Cough etiquette and hand hygiene are very important. We are continuing to clean and physical distance as much as possible.”
Tuesday’s meeting was delayed for roughly 30 minutes due to a group of adults who refused to wear face coverings. It began after they left.
Harvey said the only reason Upshur County schools are adequately prepared for all students to return to the classrooms on Monday is because they have been working toward that goal for some time.
“They have been expecting this,” Harvey said. “They are lined up in the starting blocks and ready to roll. They have a good, solid plan.”
Check back with My Buckhannon to learn about what Upshur Star Awards were presented and the results of the evaluation of Upshur County School Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus in future stories.