by KATE EVANS
The Morgan County School Board met in a special session on Monday, July 13 to discuss school reentry plans. School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle, central office staff and school principals attended in-person and online.
Governor Jim Justice has delayed West Virginia schools reopening until September 8 due to increased cases of COVID-19 throughout the state.
Tuttle said county school officials are preparing for a five-day school week — possibly with a shorter school day — but had asked the board to meet on July 13 to discuss their plans.
Tuttle said that she and staff had been working diligently to develop a reentry plan but said she doesn’t know if they’ll be going back on September 8 depending on what’s happening with the coronavirus. She felt it would be irresponsible to bring the board a reentry plan that would change multiple times before September 8.
Tuttle said school administrators are developing ideas about what a school day would look like and how to accomplish all the state requirements and guidelines within the school day.
Transportation scenarios are constantly changing. Tuttle said the school week could be 2-5 days a week and may include all students or 50% to 75% of students. Flexibility will be a strong part of the picture.
“We need to plan for going back, but can’t control what will be happening,” Tuttle stressed.
Virtual Learning School for grades k-12 will be offered.
Virtual school is for students that are choosing to stay home. Tuttle needs to know how many kids will be attending virtual school by July 31 to plan, she said. Students would have to sign up for at least a semester.
Some teachers will have to be moved to being virtual learning teachers depending on how many kids sign up for virtual learning school. Some may have a mixed class load of virtual classes and in-person classes.
Tuttle said she knows some parents aren’t comfortable sending their kids back to school. That could make for smaller class sizes that can better accommodate social distancing.
School board president Aaron Close asked the board to consider a resolution that formally gives Tuttle permission and the flexibility to proceed with reentry planning for staff and facilities as she sees fit.
Tuttle’s tasks were meeting with a local re-entry task force, developing and implementing a fulltime k-12 virtual school option, putting communication guidelines in place for school year modifications, maximizing in-school opportunities while upholding safety and wellness and adhering to state guidelines.
The board had some discussion about whether a resolution was needed, but voted unanimously for the resolution.
Parent Joseph Barb gave public comment via Zoom regarding school reopening.
He praised the diligence and work of Superintendent Kristen Tuttle and others to keep children, staff and the community safe. Barb wondered how the reentry plans were going to come into play logistically and said it was asking a lot of kids.
Barb’s 11-year-old son would be riding buses and he said that children under third grade would not be required to wear face masks which puts others at risk.
Getting his son to wear a face mask is a fight. Keeping kids in their core group is also a lot of stress for teachers.
Barb thought the state Department of Education reentry toolkit is great but he wondered how well the recommendations would be implemented.
While studies say that kids don’t get as sick from coronavirus or contract it easily, some do. Barb worried about the effects on kids and staff if a child or staff member would die from COVID-19.
Barb thought his child was better off at home. He felt that schools were stressing too much on reentry and not on other options and that the safety of the community was essential.
All parents were discussing these issues, he said.
Tech options, resources
School board president Aaron Close said that the school system was working through Wi-Fi connectivity and device issues.
Board member Eric Lyda said that Barb echoed a lot of his own concerns as a parent and asked Barb to hang in there for more information as the superintendent, board and principals weighed their options.
Tuttle said they just submitted a $1,150,000 USDA grant request that would help upgrade and provide hot spots for distance learning near all school buildings and upgrade teacher equipment.
Board members said that Tuttle and staff were doing a great job in these difficult times.
Board vice-president Pete Gordon said that all have the safety, health and well-being of all in mind and that they were on the right track. It is important to have kids in school at some point, he said.
School board member Laura Smith said that the school board has always been very trusted. She asked Tuttle about the remote learning option.
Tuttle said the remote learning option for all students is not in her control. Governor Justice can mandate it if the spread of the virus worsens. Schools must be prepared for it, but they’re not allowed to do it on their own, Tuttle said.