BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Board of Education held a special meeting July 10 to discuss the re-entry framework for the upcoming school year. This generalized framework presents guidelines that Upshur County Schools will follow as they tentatively resume on September 8, 2020. “It is intentionally general because we understand the coronavirus pandemic is an ever-changing situation,” Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus stated. The re-entry plan proposed by the state served as Upshur County BOE’s guidance when creating their framework.
The local BOE has created three possibilities they may follow for the upcoming school year – preferred operations, modified operations or full remote learning.
The preferred operation consists of all schools resuming five-day academic instruction. It will also consist of established lunch schedules and procedures that maintain social distancing, assure all food service employees wear PPE at all times, pursue virtual group events, gatherings or meetings, and promote social distancing of at least 6 feet between people while limiting group size. Buses will be cleaned and disinfected frequently, and hand sanitizer will be available to support healthy hygiene behaviors. Non-essential visitors, volunteers and activities involving external groups or organizations will be as limited as possible. Regarding extra-curricular activities and events, the BOE will follow the WSSAC guidelines.
Preferred operations will also entail keeping elementary students in core groups and when changing classes at secondary schools. Students, faculty and staff will be encouraged to use PPE. The use of outdoor classrooms will also be encouraged and areas such as gyms, cafeterias, libraries, etc. may be used for small classes or groups. Increased hand sanitation stations will be added in each school and on all buses. There will be intensified cleaning in high traffic areas, commonly touched surfaces and restrooms. Teachers will be encouraged to clean high touch surfaces in their classrooms regularly. Students will also be required to clean their Apple one-to-one devices. Absences will be addressed with the Upshur County policy/practice. They will accommodate needs of children and personnel who are at documented high-risk with utilization of excused absences and sick days with physician documentation.
With the second option of modified operations, Dr. Stankus may consider a temporary school closure, temporary closure of individual school(s), or cancellation of individual, multiple or all bus runs to clean, disinfect, and contact trace in consultation with local health officials. Employees through the district would monitor student and staff absenteeism. Students will be taught and reinforced healthy hygiene in buildings and on buses such as washing hands properly. Large gatherings would be discouraged and social distancing in cafeterias, libraries and other common areas would be enforced.
PPE would be highly encouraged for all staff and students age 2 and older with modified operations. All visitors will be encouraged to make an appointment and be required to wear PPE. Nonessential visitors, volunteers and activities involving external groups or organizations would be prohibited to the extent possible. There would be intensified cleaning and disinfectant of high traffic areas, commonly touched surfaces and bathrooms at least every hour and recommended disinfection of buses after each run. Scheduled rotations of heightened cleaning in impacted schools would occur as well. Regarding child nutrition, they will utilize protocols developed by the Office of Child Nutrition to have meals carried into classrooms by individual students or in smaller cohorts in the cafeteria, separated 6 feet apart or offer grab and go boxed meals delivered to students in the classroom setting. Like the preferred operations option, virtual group events, gatherings and meetings will take place with social distancing of at least 6 feet between people and limited group size will be promoted. The BOE will implement protocols developed by the Office of Transportation to operate buses, which will require a one or two students per seat rule, PPE and adjustment of delivery times and dismissal times of groups and students. With this modified option, noncritical gatherings will be postponed or cancelled. If necessary, they will prohibit the utilization of school facilities by outside groups, gatherings or events. Regarding extra-curricular activities and events, the BOE will follow the WSSAC guidelines. Absences will be addressed with the Upshur County policy/practice. They will accommodate needs of children and personnel who are at documented high-risk with utilization of excused absences and sick days with physician documentation.
With the full remote learning option, staff and students will not report to school buildings or worksites. District and community resources and social media would be regularly utilized for communication support. There would be utilization of protocols developed by the Office of Child Nutrition to serve meals through distribution sites or bus delivery. Programs such as backpack programs and community collaborations would be utilized. There would be no student travel and student transportation on buses would cease. Buses would strictly be used for food delivery. Usage of school facilities by outside groups, gathering or events would be prohibited, and all extra-curricular activities would be canceled.
The results from the Family Re-entry Survey and the Employee Re-entry survey displayed the majority of people feeling most comfortable with the modified operations option. There remains a lot of concern regarding social distancing within the school buildings.
Jody Johnson, Director of Federal Programs and Title I, spoke about communication with the West Virginia Virtual School Director. Upshur County can offer full online learning to students Kindergarten and up. An online instructor for support would be offered and the remote learning teacher would be working with the families and students, making weekly contact. Amount of contact will depend on grade level. For example, a kindergarten student may receive contact three times a week. This option would be open to anyone. The BOE will make sure accommodations are put in place for students who have a support plan and they will be monitored more closely. There is no deadline to make this decision. For further questions regarding the West Virginia Virtual School, contact the Upshur County BOE office. However, the entire county may result in remote learning, depending on the situation and directives from Governor Jim Justice and the West Virginia Department of Education.
The BOE is asking county employees to return to school August 14 and work continuously until August 25. This is largely due to the Apple training initiative that will begin on August 14. Mr. Derico and Dr. Stankus explained there is plenty of work to be done.
The BOE is going to stay flexible and open, and each case will be handled individually and with sensitivity, Dr. Stankus explained. They want the public to know that this plan will be flexible enough to meet the needs of all families and testing for COVID-19 will be possible on site for employees through Community Care.
Another concerning issue is that 49 staff members reported they did not have reliable internet, and this is something in terms of infrastructure that the BOE would have to address, especially if remote learning and teaching must take place. They are currently looking for options for remote access, with the possibility of even adding hotspots on the school buses.
BOE President Tammy Samples explained, “I know how difficult this is, but I am so proud of the work our people have completed and their dedication to our students and employees. I am just very appreciative.”
Mr. Perkins explained that in looking at this from a budget perspective, the first 90 days to cover COVID-19 expenses is roughly $150,000. He said they have received over a million dollars in grant funding, with some of that money going to the Apple one-to-one technology, and Perkins explained that half of it will be used within the first 90 days of reopening schools.
The proposed re-entry framework, including the state’s recommendations and requirements for each county will be placed on the school website and social media pages. The next regular meeting for the BOE will be July 21, 2020 at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.