Morgan County students will return to classrooms next week in two-day rotations under school board plan

Blended schedule set to run through Feb. 22

by KATE EVANS

Morgan County School officials on Thursday approved a new plan to return local students to classrooms on a rotating two-day schedule starting next Tuesday, January 19.

The decision was made at a January 14 emergency evening meeting which over 60 people attended, most of them virtually.

The partial-week return to classrooms will operate under a blended two-day model of in-school instruction through February 22.

Students in all grades will be affected by the plan, though schedules will be dictated somewhat by grade level.

Parents and families were informed on Friday of the plan through an automated phone call.

Morgan County classrooms  have been closed to students since before Thanksgiving due to state dictates and local COVID case levels.  Remote learning has continued during that time, though school officials say students, families and teachers are struggling to make it work.

Blended model schedule

In the two-day blended model, students will be divided into two groups (set by last name) with the first group  going to school on Monday and Tuesday and the second group  attending in-person Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be a virtual instruction day.

Students will have two days of in-school learning and three days of virtual learning each week.

Elementary students at Pleasant View, Widmyer and Warm Springs Intermediate School will be contacted by teachers about what days they will attend.

Due to the lower number of students at Paw Paw Elementary and the ability to social distance in that school, students there will attend classes in-person four days per week.

For next week only — because of the Monday Martin Luther King Day holiday — the first group of students will return to school on Tuesday, January 19 and Wednesday, January 20 and the second group of students will come to school on Thursday, January 21 and Friday, January 22.

The following week, students will go to school on the days set for their grade level or by their last name, as set out under the new school plan.

The only exception to the new “return to school” plan is that high school students in Berkeley Springs and Paw Paw will only go to classes if Morgan County is in green, yellow, orange or gold on the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) County Alert System Map on the Saturday prior to the start of the school week.

Parents still have the option of keeping or choosing full time virtual learning for their children as before.

School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said in an online statement that the school board decided at the meeting that “putting all of our students back in the schools five days a week without the ability to social distance in the classroom would not be a responsible choice at this time.”

Tuttle called for the whole community’s help to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus so students could return to school fulltime.

Face masks for all ages

The school board also approved a move to require face masks for all students, staff and visitors on Morgan County Schools property when appropriate social distancing isn’t possible.

During discussion at Thursday’s meeting, board member Eric Lyda said it was the school board’s duty to protect teachers. Parents are coming into buildings coughing, sneezing and talking without face masks on, he said.

Lyda made the motion to require masks for all on school property, which includes inside buildings and on school buses.

Lyda felt they needed to send a strong message and require masks since no one wants to change their behavior to improve community COVID-19 transmission.

Board member John Rowland noted that athletes can’t wear masks while running but they do wear face masks while conditioning. Mask wearing for athletes involves compliance with WVSSAC athletics guidelines.

The school board will review their blended model decision at their February 2 and February 16 meetings to see where things stand then.

The school board arrived at the plan after lengthy discussion and several failed votes on Thursday.

They heard from teachers and school personnel who listed concerns about exposure to the virus and an inability to distance children and staff in local schools  and on buses.

Many school staff have gotten their first dose of the COVID vaccine, but several said they think a full return to classrooms should happen after full vaccination of school personnel and local senior citizens.

School board president Aaron Close said he thought school staff would be fully vaccinated by February 22.

School board members voted, in turn, to reject a four-day blended schedule and the option to just keep schools closed for an additional week this month.

The school board then passed the blended model option for the high schools 5-0 and followed by voting for the blended model for K-8 with a 5-0 vote.  Pre-kindergarten’s school schedule will be determined by Head Start/pre-K officials.

A copy of the blended schedule plan can be located on the Morgan County Schools website and here.

Morgan County Schools letter Jan. 14

“We can all agree that there is no substitute for in-person learning, and we all want the students back in the classrooms fulltime as soon as safely possible. We have 2,300 students, 314 full time employees and over 200 additional substitutes, coaches and other part-time staff. We understand that everyone has parents, grandparents, and other family members that they are concerned about, and we take our responsibility for safety very seriously,” Superintendent Tuttle said in her letter to families.

Kate Shunney contributed to this story.

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