Pocahontas School Superintendent Clarifies BOE’s Decision to Start 4 Days-a-Week Classes

At their October 13th meeting, the Pocahontas County Board of Education passed a motion to re-open all county schools to in-person instruction starting on Monday, October 26th as long as the local Health Department was good with students and teachers wearing masks in classrooms where social distancing is not possible. The following day, we met up with School Superintendent Terrence Beam to clarify what this will actually mean.

“When we had our board meeting, a lot of our board members were getting calls from parents and not only phone calls, some visits too” Beam said. “And I have been getting some of the same things about getting our kids back to school four days a week. Mr. Gibson on the board, mentioned that there was fourteen people who he had the names of, asking him to try and get something done with this, and the other board members all chimes in and has similar experiences with our citizens wishing to bring our students back to school. So, the motion was made to bring all our students back on October 26th, which is two weeks from this past Monday. That will give schools time to plan on getting the kids back. Students must still remain six-feet apart while they eat because they are unmasked at that time.”

“The stipulations were these. First of all, we had to get permission from our County Health Department to go down this road, which we did receive this morning; second, students would be required to wear masks at all times, all grades, if they cannot social distance, including employees; and third, all students who are in virtual school will still be allowed to stay in virtual schools if they choose. Now one of the things that wasn’t mentioned during the discussion was that the students at Marlinton Elementary, Marlinton Middle, and Hillsboro, who have already begun, or in some cases completed the re-entry four days a week at those schools. This does not affect them in any form.”

“I told the board that I would design a letter to send out to all five of our principals to communicate with our parents, and explain their options. They still have the option to stay two days a week if they prefer, but they will be given the latitude to send them all four days if they choose. I am going to be making an ‘all call’ to the community explaining the situation, It will be a brief announcement, basically explaining this letter, which can be found on Allegheny Mountain Radio’s website. We want to get our kids back to school. We have zero cases (of COVID-19) in Pocahontas County as of today, and we are green on the map. It’s an ideal time for us to try to increase the number of days face-to-face, and our parents seem to want that.”

One of the board members suggested that this might not meet the state’s guidelines for wearing of masks. Can you explain why that was incorrect?

“Yeah, the reason it was incorrect is because if you wear a mask, you are not required by state mandate to be six-foot apart. If you do not wear a mask, you are. That’s why our students wear masks. They sit side-by-side, but they are wearing a mask, or else we couldn’t get our kids to school.”

The students at Hillsboro, Elementary, Marlinton Middle and Marlinton Elementary who have already returned to 4 days of face-to-face instruction are not affected by this, is that correct?

“Right, they are already six foot apart to start with, they came back under those stipulations. Now, I did have a principal ask me; they were having to move one class into a different location because of this, and they asked me if if they would be able to move back into the regular classroom now. and I said, yes they would because we have now relaxed the restrictions a little bit, and so they will be able to put them back into a regular classroom instead of out in a hall or in a gymnasium, or wherever they happened to have been.”

At last night’s meeting, Mr. Riley (the Principal at PCHS) said he was considering bringing the Freshman class back into 4 days soon. Does this board decision affect that?

“It does change that. I think that the board is willing to work with the high school in maybe delaying the start if necessary, but they are still going to try and hit that October 26th deadline, but there is always room for a little bit of tweaking as we go along. But this will help all or our kids get back to four days-a-week, because we think it is very imperative for them to receive the education they need.”

I understand that the elementary students eat lunch in the classroom. Now, ff the class is so large that it is impossible to maintain social distancing during lunch, where they have to take their masks off to eat, how will that be addressed?

“That’s what Mrs. Doolittle, our Food Services Director, is working with our cooks and principals. If it is in the classroom, or the library, or the gymnasium, or wherever it happened to be, they still have to maintain the six-foot apart to eat their lunch.”

OK, I think that clarifies everything.

“Thank you.”

You can view the letter to parents that Beam sent out to his principals here: 10-13-20 Beam Letter PDF

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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