Pocahontas BOE Has Some Hard Decisions to Make

During their review of their school re-entry plan at their January 5th meeting, the Pocahontas County Board of Education was forced to consider Governor Justice’s updated school re-entry regulations.

A December 30th press release by the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDOE) said that the Governor has scrapped the weekly school virus map as the determining factor as to whether a county can conduct in-classroom schooling for the following week. The Governor’s new plan includes keeping all schools in the state in remote learning until January 19th, at which times all schools will be required to open for five-day per week in-person classroom instruction. For Pre-K through 8th grade, the return to the classroom will happen regardless of the Department of Health’s daily virus color code for the county. However, high school grades 9 through 12 will still close while their county daily virus map remains red.

The WVDOE explains that the science supports the idea that being in school is the safest place for kids to be, particularly elementary and middle school kids who do not get very sick from COVID-19 and are unlikely to infect other people. The press release also said that students’ educations are suffering because of the lack of in person instruction.

At the board meeting, School Superintendent Beam read a letter from a concerned parent which said that being forced to return their student to the classroom is dangerous particularly because their child is in a large class where social distancing is impossible. It was a very powerful letter.

Beam said he has checked with the WVDOE and it appears that the local Boards of Education do not have the option to not follow the guidelines and will have to open for 5 days a week on January 19th.  He said that three other counties’ boards have voted to ignore the Governor’s directives, and were told there will be retributions from the state if they do that.

A number of county teachers weighed in about this. Mrs. Spencer, Principal of Hillsboro Elementary School said that most teachers there were in favor of returning to five-day classroom instruction. She also asked permission from the board to allow Hillsboro students to eat lunch in three shifts in the cafeteria instead of in their classrooms. She said they can do so while maintaining six-foot distancing in the cafeteria. The board did vote to allow that.

Most teachers who commented from other schools seemed to favor remaining on the four-day schedule with Wednesdays reserved for teachers to assist students who are having academic problems.

Board member Sam Gibson said he very much disagreed with the Governor’s opening of grades Pre-K through 8 to five day in person instruction because it endangers students and teachers.

Board President Sue Hollandsworth indicated that she is a “rule follower” and would support the new regulations because the education needs of students is so important.

Beam said he didn’t want the board to vote on this at this meeting, but to take time to see if state guidelines will change and to consider the possible financial retributions the county schools could face if they defy the Governor’s orders. It appears that the board members, parents and teachers may have very divided opinions about this. They set a special meeting for Thursday, January 14th at 6 p.m. to make a decision on this.

Also, at this meeting:

  • Ruth Bland announced that they have received enough portable computers purchased through a grant to provide a device to all students in 8th, 9th and 10th grades, and that 11th and 12th grade students already have them. She said they still have not heard about their USDA Grant application which will provide computers for the rest of the students.
  • Sherry Radcliff announced that they have accepted a bid from Mitchells Chevrolet to purchase a new work truck for $31,900 which includes a maintenance contract.
  • Laurie Doolittle told the board that if they return to 5 day in-person education, they will need to approve extra duty time for cooks but will not need that if it remains four-day per week instruction.

Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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