Pocahontas County BOE Decides on amount of In-Class Instruction per Week
The Pocahontas County Board of Education (BOE) held a special session on Thursday, January 14th to formulate the re-entry schedule to use once schools state-wide are reopened to in-class instruction on Tuesday, January 19th.
School Superintendent Terrence Beam said that as he understands the governor’s order and the direction of the WV Department of Education, there are two options for the board to consider.
Option 1: Return to 5 days per week in school education, with the possibility of a three-hour early dismissal every Wednesday so the schools can be deep cleaned.
Option 2: Return to the blended plan that schools opened with last September, 2 days in school instruction, with three days of virtual, with the schools being deep cleaned on Wednesdays.
Beam also mentioned that school staff will once again have CARES money available to pay their salaries for up to ten days if they are being treated for or quarantined by COVID-19.
He also said that he has met with school principals, directors, and union leaders, and has talked with other superintendents across the state to clarify the state directives. He said that the State Board of Education has indicated that not returning kids to the classroom until all staff are vaccinated is not an option, and that being in school is the safest place for kids.
Board member Sam Gibson had several questions and a suggestion before the re-entry plan would be discussed. He wanted to know if Substitute Teachers were also entitled to the ten days pay for COVID, and was told that it is only for full time teachers. Gibson also asked how many full-time virtual students there were and if parents could still enroll their kids in virtual school for the second semester. He was told there are 109 students still in the virtual program and yes it remains an option for parents. He proposed forming a taskforce to assist the school nurse and the three Licensed Practical Nurses at the schools. School Nurse Jenny Friel answered by saying that was not needed.
Regarding the re-entry plan, Gibson said he is opposed the five-day re-entry plan. He said he supports the original blended option of two days in class. Gibson said that with a five-day plan, we could see a dramatic increase in cases in the schools because we have not conducted in school classes since the latest increase in COVID cases in the county. Gibson said he wants to wait until all staff are vaccinated or the virus spread decreases before going back to five- day-a-week instruction.
Board President, Sue Hollandsworth, said she supports a return to a five day a week in-school schedule with a three-hour early dismissal on Wednesdays to clean the schools. She said that there are other factors besides COVID to consider such as that the blended option will hurt the kids’ education, and the science supports keeping kids in school as the safest option for them. Being in school also provides students with a controlled environment with safety standards, and keeps kids off the streets where there are no safety standards being enforced. She noted that the county’s COVID map did not turn red until after the schools were closed Three other board members, Burns, McComb and McLaughlin, indicated support for Hollandsworth’s position, agreeing that being in school two days or five days a week will make no difference in the spread of COVID but will impact the quality of the education kids receive.
Student Representative Allan Gibson told the board that he surveyed about 50 high school students and 62% do not want to return to five-day-a-week instruction. He was also concerned that the five-day plan would cause PCHS to return to a seven-period schedule from the modified block schedule they have been using, and cause confusion. PCHS Principal Joe Riley answered saying that they will not make that change because of the three lunch periods.
Jeanette Wagner the county’s American Federation of Teachers representative said the union supports waiting for all staff to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom, or at least returning to four days a week with Wednesdays off.
Sherry Radcliff responded saying that just because teachers are not in class with students, they are still at risk of getting infected at home or in the community.
Board Member Morgan McComb made a motion to return to in class instruction five-days-a-week with a three-hour early dismissal on Wednesdays. Member McLaughlin seconded the motion and the board passed the motion with a four to one majority. Sam Gibson being the only member voting in opposition.
The board then held a short executive session to discuss things with Jason Long, their attorney, and then returned to open session to adjourn the meeting.
So, middle and elementary school students will return to this five-day schedule effective Tuesday, January 19th, while high school students will return when the school map indicates the county is no longer in the red category.
A copy of a letter the Superintendent is sending to parents explaining this new re-entry schedule can be found at this link: January letter to parents-COVID