Upshur County Schools joins ‘Be the Light’ movement to illuminate first responders, Class of 2020

BUCKHANNON – With the social distancing order, members of the Upshur County Board of Education are conducting their meetings virtually to keep within safe space from one another.

As a result, one huge and well-loved portion of the BOE meetings – the recognitions and awards section known as Upshur Stars – has been on a bit of a hiatus. During the Upshur Stars portion of meetings, students, teachers, service personnel, community members and volunteers are recognized for their efforts to make Upshur County Schools the best they can be.

But at Tuesday’s BOE meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus announced Upshur County Schools and Buckhannon-Upshur High School will bring back the focus on ‘Upshur Stars,’ beginning Friday, April 24. Stankus unveiled a plan that will ‘shine light’ on the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Class of 2020 and the first responders who are giving so much at this trying time.

Stankus said the school system would be participating with the ‘Be the Light’ movement that has been sweeping across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea is to literally highlight people and entities that have been bright spots during this dark time. On Friday, the ‘Be the Light’ movement will show support for doctors, nurses and first responders who are working countless hours to care for the sick as well as the Class of 2020, who aren’t able to partake in normal rites of passage as they finish out their high school years.

At 8:20 p.m. or 20:20 military time, Upshur County Schools will take part in the national ‘Be the Light’ campaign by turning on stadium lights for 20 minutes. Many school systems across the United States are participating to honor first responders and the Class of 2020.

“We are going to have the stadium lights turned on from 8:20 until 8:40 p.m. each Friday night at B-UHS,” Stankus said. “The ‘Be the Light’ supports COVID-19 first responders and our Buckhannon-Upshur High School seniors missing their final year. The school plans to do this every Friday night for the remainder of the school year.”

Stankus said she is excited Upshur County Schools will be a part of ‘Be the Light.’

“We believe in what this stands for,” she said. “It supports our first responders in our community as well as our seniors who are missing their final year. Certainly, when they left school on March 13, they did not know that would be their last day.”

Stankus said students’ lockers are still full, with many believing they were just leaving the school building as they did any other day.

“Today, as we found out that we would not be returning to the school buildings this academic year, there is a grief [that is being felt] by all of our families – certainly by our school personnel – we want to acknowledge that this Friday night we will have the stadium lights on. This would be a typical night we would have them on – to recognize our first responders and our seniors. We will do this every Friday night for the remainder of the school year,” Stankus said.

BOE member Alan Suder said he ‘is a believer,’ and asked those who see the lights at B-UHS on each Friday night to say a prayer for the community and the B-UHS seniors.

“This is something that will go down in the history books for them and a lot of us. This is something the country has not witnessed before, and I just ask for prayer,” he said.

In other news related to the Class of 2020, Stankus said the B-UHS Senior Class Officers and Student Council members created a video explaining the new, modified graduation options following Governor Jim Justice’s announcement Tuesday that students won’t return to school this school year. An accompanying survey created by the Graduation Leadership Team has been sent out to all the B-UHS seniors to ask them what they want to see for graduation.

She also said in lieu of Governor Jim Justice’s order that students would not be returning to the school buildings for the remainder of the academic year, they will be “communicating with Upshur County School staff as directed by the West Virginia State Superintendent of School” and “bringing our people back starting Monday (April 27, 2020) and developing a plan to clear out the classrooms and preparing for the upcoming school year.”

“That is what our plan is,” Stankus said.

BOE member Kristi Wilkerson also asked if school employees were still being paid at their regular rates, and Stankus said they were. BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples said that was at the direction of Justice.

Stankus said Justice also mandated that students be fed until the end of the school year.

“At that point, we will probably start our summer feeding program,” Stankus said.

Also, during Tuesday’s BOE meeting:

  • During a reconvened meeting from March 10, 2020, BOE members voted unanimously to approve the levy rates for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. The rates are 9.83 per hundred for class I; 19.66 per hundred for class II; and 39.32 per hundred for class III and IV. These rates are the same that were approved for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.
  • Board members voted to approve the superintendent’s recommendations for personnel unanimously.
  • Board members voted to table the sale of property, a maintenance building owned by the BOE, located at 62 Ritchie Street in Buckhannon. Financial Director George Carver said he met with the appraiser earlier in the year and learned the building itself. However, the value of the two lots on which the building is location is approximately $41,000. Carver suggested if the BOE sells the property, it should sell it with the building to avoid the costs of having the building demolished. He said the property would need to be sold through the proper channels, and BOE member Alan Suder made a motion to table the discussion of a possible sale until a later meeting. BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond seconded the motion and the BOE voted unanimously to table the vote of the possible sale of the property until a later meeting.
  • Facilities Director Tim Derico told BOE members that the roof project at Hodgesville Elementary School is finished and said the roofers are installing gutters and completing the finishing work. He said the project is complete and the project for the roof at Buckhannon-Upshur High School is complete, adding that both buildings are dry now.
  • Jodie Akers, student services director, reported elementary school counselors are providing a weekly newsletter which is posted on Facebook and on each schools’ virtual links. She said the counselors are doing regular check-ins and scheduling video chats for students who need one-on-one services. Akers said all the partners are still doing therapy with students through telehealth, so they are still connecting with the students.
  • Suder asked if maintenance could address the needs of each school building now since students won’t be returning to them this school year. “If we have the finances, maybe we could make valuable use of the time to renovate the needs in our school system as far as the buildings,” Suder said. Derico said each school has provided five summer requests. “We will prioritize that and as long as we get the green light to get people back to work, we will be able to move forward with that,” he said. “That is our hope and we have our own list – we hope we can accomplish more with this extra time.”

The next meeting of the Upshur BOE is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at the BOE Office which will be a virtual meeting, unless there is a lift on the social distancing order.

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