Marshall County Schools releases re-entry plan

Photo by Alan Olson Marshall County Board of Education president John Miller, and vice-president Christie Robison listen to discussion from health professionals at a meeting releasing the schools’ re-entry plan.

MOUNDSVILLE — Marshall County Schools has adopted a similar system to many other counties across the Mountain State on how to start classes in the fall, but the final call on how students will return in the fall hasn’t been made yet.

At a special meeting Wednesday morning, administrators of the Marshall County School District and the Marshall County Health Department announced the plan for students to return to schools. The plan organized four levels of increasing social distance, ranging from standard in-person learning on a regular class schedule up to fully remote learning for all students.

They include:

— Level 1: In-person learning five days a week, with a standard one hour delay Wednesday, following a regular class schedule. Facilities will be used in accordance with recommendations from the health department and the state Department of Education.

— Level 2: In-person learning four days a week, with remote learning Wednesday, with the time used to clean and disinfect facilities.

— Level 3: In-person learning two days a week, with remote learning used for the other three, with students divided by last names — students with names beginning with A-K will attend Monday and Tuesday, while L-Z will attend Thursday and Friday. Wednesday and days where students are not in attendance will consist of remote learning.

— Level 4: All students use remote learning. All instruction would be delivered through iPads. Facilities will be closed.

If face coverings are mandated by Gov. Jim Justice for students of any grade level, all students will be required to wear a mask or face shield when social distancing is not possible.

Students are scheduled to return to class on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day. Which level the district, or individual schools, will use will be decided by August 17.

Superintendent Shelby Haines said the goal, as always, has been to have students in school five days a week, but only while safe to do so. She hopes that by giving parents about a month to prepare, they can work out a range of solutions for their students.

“COVID-19 is unpredictable at best, and we need to be prepared for all kinds of different things to happen. Those will reduce the number of students in schools at any one time to increase (capacity) for social distancing,” Haines said.

“We work very closely with the health department, and we will work with them to determine what level we will begin at. … Announcing the levels now gives people six weeks to prepare. At some point, we’ll be at each of those levels, I’m sure.”

Haines said there are meetings ongoing through the week with teachers, personnel and other faculty who may be concerned for their health due to potential exposure to COVID-19. As of today, Haines said around 15 school employees are discussing their options to take a medical leave of absence. Similarly, she said many parents are discussing the possibility of keeping their children home to learn remotely, regardless of the level.

“Based on our parent surveys, they want their kids in school. We want them back in school. There’s nothing that can replace direct teaching from a live person, so we always want to have our kids five days a week. We just need to make sure everybody’s safe,” Haines said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Curriculum Director Woody Yoder, who also serves as assistant superintendent. Yoder added that it’s the responsibility of the public to demonstrate good health as a duty to the children.

“We want students in school. That’s our goal, and if there’s anything we can do between now and school startup, I hope everyone feels that responsibility to have that in them, to do those things to make sure we can start school the way we want to,” Yoder said. “This is a campaign that everyone should have in the back of their mind, as far as why we need to mask up, to social distance, to really regulate — especially on Labor Day weekend. It’s a responsibility for everybody in our county to consider what they’re doing, and whether those things cause a spread that would prohibit us from starting school.

“Safety is of utmost concern, but at the same time, we want our children to learn. As a curriculum and instruction person, the learning part is what really concerns us.”

Board President John Miller spoke enthusiastically of the hard work put in by teachers, administrators and health department personnel to bring the plan together.

Board Vice President Christie Robison said that her message to parents and students was to try to stress the new way school would be conducted to students without instilling fear, but a respect for the rules.

“Be careful. Pay attention. Do the things you’re asked to do, to stay safe yourself. Try to remove as much fear, especially when you’re talking to children, from it. This could be the Great Adventure… or the Great Catastrophe. We don’t want that,” she said. “I taught middle school aged children for a very long time. They like to feel responsible. Empower them. Use that. ‘You need to help out the teachers and staff,’ try to get the feeling that ‘We can do this.'”

Threat Preparedness Director Mark Ackermann, representing the Marshall County Health Department, said the department held out some hope that Justice might delay the reopening of schools a few weeks to distance the time between Labor Day weekend — and the associated rise in COVID-19 cases — and the return to school.

“Our concern is, what’s going to happen with Labor Day events coming up? Is there going to be potential spread?” Ackermann said.

“We’d love to see if the governor could push it back a couple weeks additional, so there’s an opportunity to monitor, see if there’s additional spread at that time.”

In the month of July, Ackermann said the county has seen 65 new cases, more than the county had seen for the prior months since COVID-19 had first been identified in the county. He said the county was “really concerned” with how the situation would develop between Wednesday and the beginning of the school year, though he was highly satisfied with how the board had handled the health crisis.

“As this entire event is so fluid, is it going to be enough? We don’t know,” he added.

Ackermann said the regulations and masks would somewhat increase safety in public spaces, but asking children to abide by safety rules and precautions is a tough prospect.

“The operative word is ‘somewhat.’ Just as we’ve been preaching to the general public, the key is self-monitoring. That’s difficult when you’re talking about kids. Adults, generally, we can get them to self-monitor a little better. When you’re talking pre-K to 12th grade, how much are these kids going to self-monitor and follow the guidance 100 percent? We understand there’s going to be some risk,” he said.

“We will be there 100 percent with the board, administration, individual schools, wherever we need to be. It is absolutely imperative that we work as a community here, and keep the kids as safe as we possibly can,” he added.


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