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BOE prepares for the unknown

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer
 
At the July 21 Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting, superintendent Terrence Beam gave the board a preliminary glimpse at what the 2020-2021 school year will look like.

Beam explained that the re-entry committee has met to discuss how students and employees will return to the schools this fall and how instruction will be provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 84 individuals – school employees, healthcare providers and board members – serve on the committee to create a comprehensive plan on academics, transportation, food services, health and wellness, technology, Career and Technical Education programs, maintenance and sanitation and financial stability.

“This morning we discussed some of the issues,” Beam said. “I want to point out these are just a few of the issues. We talked about masks versus shields for our students and our employees; where to place students when they get sick and we call parents to come get them; the options for parents to choose whether they want blending learning or virtual learning.”

Beam added that the following  issues were discussed:

– Social distancing, both in the schools and on buses. 

– Food service for students on days they are learning virtually. 

– Cleaning the facilities throughout the day. 

– Monitoring visitors entering the building. 

– Delivering CTE instruction virtually. 

– Providing personal protective equipment [PPE] for all students and employees.

While the committee was hopeful that students would be able to attend school, in person, at least four days a week, Beam said it will be too difficult to follow social distancing guidelines to make that happen.

“I think at this point – and obviously, it can always change – but right now, we’re looking at half the students coming in Monday and Tuesday,” he said. “Then Tuesday evening when those kids leave, we send their lessons home for the rest of the week. Wednesday would be a planning day for the teachers and we’d clean the buildings. Then the other half of the students would come in on Thursday and Friday. When those students leave, they will be given lessons to bring back on the following Thursday.”

Due to the social distancing requirements, Beam explained that there are not enough buses to safely carry students to school four days a week because the students need to be seated further apart. That is why the aforementioned plan came into play. 

All parents will receive a letter with a returnable postcard to let the board know how they want their children to be educated next year. They have the option of sending them to school or doing virtual learning in which the student would attend classes online. 

“We’ll get those responses back by the thirty-first of July so we can move forward, because we don’t know how many people are going to opt into the virtual instruction,” Beam said. 

Once the re-entry plan is completed, Beam said the committee will present it to the board at the August 11 meeting for approval. Once approved, the plan will be submitted to the West Virginia Department of Education.

On top of planning the unique school year, Beam said he had to redesign the 2020-2021 school calendar, which was approved earlier this year. After Governor Jim Justice declared that West Virginia schools West Virginia schools would return September 8, the calendar was no longer correct.

Beam said the state department gave the requirement that school should end as close to June 1 as possible and so the calendar had to be retooled to include as many instructional days as possible. Instruction will begin on September 8 and the last day of school for students will be June 3.

Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks will stay intact, but Spring Break will be reduced to two-and-a-half days. 

In updates: 

• Director of curriculum, instruction and federal programs Lynne Bostic provided information on the Community in Schools Program which she hopes to implement this year in Pocahontas County Schools.

“They provide mentors for students who are at risk,” Bostic explained. “They provide tutoring for students who are behind in their studies and it’s just a wonderful program, too, for a child who may just need [help with school supplies] or is just having a bad day.”

The program works on a three-tier process – school-wide services; targeted programs; and individualized support. 

• Director of special education, student services, transportation and testing Ruth Bland gave an update on the technology and transportation departments. 

In technology, Bland said she has created a student device loaner program policy for the devices students will use during virtual learning and social distancing. At this time, the board has purchased Microsoft SurfaceGo2 devices which will be distributed to the juniors and seniors. 

Bland said the students are required to sign an agreement concerning the devices and there will be a cost to the students if the devices are damaged or destroyed. 

Bland added that there is a requirement students must reach in order to be approved for virtual learning, and she presented a copy of that information to the board. 

“As students enter into virtual school, there is a semblance of some skill that must be in place before they can be successful in a virtual environment,” she said. “We must inform the parents of everything that may be affecting their child if they come into a virtual environment. One of the expectations of children coming into virtual school is that they are functioning at grade level.” 

Also, if the student is participating in virtual learning and there is an internet outage, the board of education will have to find a way to ensure the student has alternative access to internet to continue their studies. 

“We have to be able to assist these children,” Bland said. “At the high school level, when they go in the virtual school, we have a teacher that is stationed at the high school all day long and works with those kids as they are moving through their virtual courses.” 

In addition to the devices, Bland said she recently purchased 100 webcams on tripods which teachers can use in the classroom for students attending virtually. The cameras will allow teachers to share information they provide on the WhiteBoard, as well as any handouts given in class.

The technology was all purchased with CARES Act funding from the government which is earmarked for state and local governments to alleviate the strain the pandemic has caused. 

In transportation, Bland informed the board that bus drivers are aware that the buses will have to be disinfected more often and they are coming up with ways to ensure the buses are sanitized daily. 

“The filters in the buses – they are going to have to be taken out every week, every month,” Bland said. “They are going to have to be cleaned. Usually, we do it on our preventative maintenance schedule which is six weeks. We cannot do that any longer. It has to be done more often. 

“The buses will have to be cleaned after each run,” she continued. “They will have to be sanitized and disinfected before the next run. It is my duty to provide them with the tools that will be efficient and will be safe. We’ll have electrostatic cleaners, which we have already ordered. We are also looking at a different way to mop the floor of the buses.”

 In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:

• Mr. H. Samuel Gibson as the Pocahontas County Board of Education representative on the West Virginia Extension Office Committee, retroactive to July 6, for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. 

• Mr. Morgan McComb to represent Pocahontas County Board of Education on the Day Report Committee for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

• The updated Policy 3120.12 – Substitutes in Area of Critical Need and Shortage.

• Agreement between Pocahontas County Board of Education and Pocahontas County Park and Recreation regarding the use and funding of the Wellness Center, retroactive to July 1, continuing until June 30, 3021.

• Pocahontas County Schools COVID-19 waiver for students to participate in extracurricular activities as sanctioned by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission [WVSSAC].

• Andrea J. Sharp, a resident of Randolph County, to enroll her child in Pocahontas County Schools for the 2020-2021 school year.
 
In personnel management, the board approved the following: 

• Assignment transfer of Janesa Henderson from counselor at Hillsboro Elementary School and Marlinton Elementary School, to counselor at Marlinton Elementary School, effective for the 2020-2021 school year. Term of employment shall remain 200 days. 

• Consent to change Felicia Smith from itinerant special education classroom aide/bus aide at Marlinton Middle School and Hillsboro Elementary School, to itinerant special education classroom aide/bus aide at Marlinton Middle School, effective for the 2020-2021 school year. Term of employment shall remain 200 days. 

• Employment of Kevin A. Thompson as half-time itinerant supervisory special education classroom aide/bus aide and half-time custodian III at Hillsboro Elementary School, at state basic salary, effective for the 2020-2021 school year. Term of employment is 210 days. 200 days as an aide/custodian and 10 days as a custodian. 

• Contract extension for extended summer feeding program by an additional three days, August 12 through 14, six hours per day, in order to implement new WVDE guidelines due to the changes in the 2020-2021 school calendar start date, stemming from COVID-19 restrictions, for the following individuals: Sherri Howe, Lora Sue Miller, Kevin Thompson and Emmet Doolittle.

• Resignation of Callie Cronin Sams as teacher of science/biology at Pocahontas County High School. 

• Creation of position site coordinator of the Community in Schools Program at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, at state minimum salary based on degree and experience, for the 2020-2021 school year. Term of employment is 200 days. Salary to be paid by grant funding.

• Creation of position site coordinator of the Community in Schools Program at Pocahontas County High School, at state minimum salary based on degree and experience, for the 2020-2021 school year. Term of employment is 200 days. Salary to be paid by grant funding.
 
The next board meeting will be Tuesday, August 11, at 6 p.m. at the board of education conference room.

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