State presents scenarios for county schools reopening in the fall

by Kate Evans

The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) released its COVID-19 Re-entry to Recovery guidelines with several possible fall back-to-school scenarios after a June 10 state Department of Education meeting. State officials also posed other considerations for schools to think about.

Possible scenarios

In the first school re-entry scenario called Safer at School/Safer at Home, students would attend school four days a week with one day of remote learning or some similar configuration. School buildings would be rigorously sanitized on the remote days. This is a preferred scenario for elementary schools.

The blended learning delivery models scenario would be a stand-alone option or could be combined with the Safer at School/Safer at Home scenario. In these options students might attend school a limited number of days. Class sizes might be limited or creative scheduling used to minimize student movement in the school.

Full remote learning delivery would be implemented if an outbreak occurs and a stay at home order is issued. All students would complete their school assignments remotely five days a week. This scenario would require daily teacher-student communication and a process for monitoring, reviewing and grading student activities.

Superintendent weighs in

Morgan County Schools Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said that Morgan County Schools is working hard to plan for each of these scenarios. They are scenarios and not final decisions. Tuttle noted that it will take an abundance of planning and consideration of multiple factors before releasing specific information for the reopening of Morgan County Schools.

Tuttle wanted the public to understand that the state has provided initial information and possible school reentry scenarios but there is much more guidance and planning to come. Schools must plan by following guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Governor Jim Justice and the West Virginia Department of Education.

“Things will likely be adjusted many times prior to school starting,” Tuttle said.

Although the school calendar may change with state reentry guidance, Tuttle said that the anticipated first day of school for Morgan County students is still August 18. They are hopeful to have students return to school in August.

Tuttle said they will get information out to the public as soon as they have concrete plans to share. The schools “appreciate the community’s continued patience as we do the best we can to serve our students and families during these unique circumstances.” There is a new definition of “normal” and the definition changes often.

“We, as a community, need to remain open-minded and flexible and make a commitment to working together to make the best of a very unique situation for our children,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle encouraged families to follow the state Department of Education webpage for new information on schools re-opening:

Other considerations

State officials advised school systems to consider limiting visitors, developing protocols for masks, social distancing, hand-washing and more, and evaluating athletic/physical activities, related arts and large gatherings on school time and property. Field trips should also follow safety protocols and be limited. Outdoor classrooms could be used when appropriate.

Also suggested were having elementary students stay in core groups within specific classrooms for instruction and related arts and using varying student social distancing by population (medically fragile, young children, etc.)

Additional protocols under advisement include daily screening for symptoms in students and staff and considering masks for when students are outside of core groups and can’t do social distancing. This includes when riding on buses.

Remote learning days should be instructional days with meaningful student engagement that is monitored, reviewed and graded timely. Schools could consider expanding course offerings through local policies or a partnership with West Virginia Virtual Schools.

Regional closings or single school closings could be implemented instead of state closings.

State Department of Education officials also advised school districts to start the school year early in case the COVID-19 virus has a resurgence. Schools must have a contingency plan if the need arises to revert to a remote learning environment due to the coronavirus.

Focus areas, protocols

A state Advisory Council with over 40 partners is working collaboratively on nine focus areas to help guide counties with their reentry and recovery plans and strategies for the fall. The focus areas are instruction and learning, physical and social/emotional wellness, career technical education, child nutrition, special education, safe schools and transportation, finance, extracurricular/extended activities and technology.

Until a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment is available, the school day may be much different than in the past, officials noted in their plan. While a state of emergency is in effect, the West Virginia Department of Education and county school districts will follow the Governor’s and state health officials’ guidelines.

If a state of emergency is lifted, the Department of Education and school districts will make decisions based on COVID-19 data in individual districts and state health officials’ recommendations.