Our Upshur County Schools Reentry Advisory Council met virtually using TEAMS technology on June 5, 2020. That we are still not meeting in person due to the Coronavirus Pandemic says a whole bunch about the obstacles we face in opening schools in August. Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus and Dr. Jeff Harvey serve as facilitators for our Council, which is made up of leading professionals representing our Buckhannon-Upshur community. Getting from “virtual” to “schools open” remains an uncharted reentry.
Lesson Learned as a West Virginia doctor growing up during other epidemics, I offer up that communicating plainly is vital to our success as we chart our return to school:
▪ Phase 1: Address the Essentials: The Current Situation
▪ Phase 2: Reentry: Establishing a New Normal
▪ Phase 3: Beyond 2020
My childhood had a dark cloud hanging over known as the Polio Epidemic. One classmate suffered paralysis, and another classmate’s older brother had to leave home to live out his shortened life in an iron lung in a far-removed city. Sad indeed. Hope for us Academy Grade School students came with the Salk polio vaccine. Around our family supper table, I heard Country Doc Dad tell Mom that up to 200,000 new infantile paralysis cases occurred yearly. Polio still exists but, thank God, the vaccines saved much suffering.
Our children and grandchildren will have various takes on the current pandemic. Little Granddaughter Harper Rose was asked by our son Roncevert over a recent meal what COVID-19 meant to her. She observed that having her mother and father work from home was appealing to her. “We are closer as a family!”
Another granddaughter, Aliza, has also benefited from the quarantine at home due to creative encouragement by Mommy Maria and Daddy Justin. Ever since an international trip to her Grandmother Lola’s home country of the Philippine Islands, Aliza has wanted to become an architect. Her mind fills with housing improvements for Filipino children. Sparked by genuine caring, she has created double decker hammocks, improved bird nests, and done some very basic engineering projects with her sister, Emilia. She announces now she will be an architectural engineer! Upon my word—growth and development beyond expectations.
For sure families will do what families have always done—decide based on the best information available to act for the sake of their children. Also, the Upshur County Schools Board of Education has said again and again that we make our BOE decisions for the sake of the students!
My educated gut reaction is that opening school in August will remain a goal but will not be smooth until we have a vaccine. Dr. Joseph Reed, our Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department Medical Director, points out how social distancing might be maintained. (Note that he is speaking personally, not giving official recommendations.) He suggests students come part time, for example 1/3 of the students at a time and livestream to the other 2/3 who are not physically in class. That would give two days of classroom instruction for each of our nearly 4,000 students, allowing spacing on school buses and in school classrooms. That would also mean Saturday classes for some. We could serve one area of the county each day and thus also significantly reduce transportation costs overall. The public health model would mean all wearing cloth masks, washing hands frequently, and checking temperatures before coming onto the buses. These are certainly reasonable steps in the face of a worldwide virus infection that we must respect.
Stay tuned, more to come.