Suzanne Stewart\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\u00a0\r\nAt the January 5 Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Terrence Beam reported on the ever changing re-entry plan and how the board\u2019s decisions will be contingent on the directives given by Governor Jim Justice and the State Department of Education.\r\n\r\n\u201cI want to caution the board to not make any rash decisions tonight,\u201d Beam said. \u201cWe have two weeks from today before the students will be coming back. A lot is going to change in the next ten days, and I don\u2019t want us to make a decision on something to find out either it simply won\u2019t work or we\u2019re not allowed to do it.\r\n\r\n\u00a0\u201cI think the discussion we have is extremely important to see where we are with everyone\u2019s thoughts, but as far as committing to anything, I think it would be a little bit presumptuous for us to do that at this point.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u00a0As of the meeting, the most recent directive from Justice was that on January 19, all elementary and middle schools would return to five days a week in the schools, and high school students would attend school unless the county is in the red on the Department of Health and Human Resources [DHHR] map.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is a tricky thing to read and understand \u2013 this is what confuses people,\u201d Beam said, referring to the directive. \u201cCounties may return to four days of in-person instruction with the fifth day reserved for teachers to engage with students via virtual platforms.\r\n\r\n\u00a0\u201cThis is all very fluid right now,\u201d he continued. \u201cWe need to not just make a decision today on this \u2013 I\u2019m not trying to put it off \u2013\u00a0I just don\u2019t want to make a wrong decision that we have to go back and retract later.\u201d\r\n\r\nBeam said the directive also stated that sports will start March 1, and he is concerned that the students will be spread thin with winter and spring sports at the same time.\r\n\r\nIn discussing the directive for elementary and middle school students to return regardless of the DHHR map, Beam shared a letter from a Green Bank Elementary-Middle School employee and parent who asked what would happen to parents if they decide to keep their students out of school when the map is orange or red.\r\n\r\n\u201c\u2018As for the four day versus five day schedule, I think that it would be better to keep the four day schedule,\u2019\u201d Beam read aloud. \u201c\u2018If this schedule is not kept, how will the deep clean priority be met? Additionally, I am willing as a parent to return to two day in-person and three day remote schedule if it means that my daughter gets less exposed. She is in one of the largest classes at Green Bank.\u2019\u201d\r\n\r\nThe letter continued by asking what precautions will be taken if the \u201cstudents are forced to return to school.\u201d\u00a0\r\n\r\n\u201c\u2018If parents feel it is not safe to send their students to school when the county is under a red or orange designation, what option to parents have?\u2019\u201d Beam read. \u201c\u2018I believe that reprieve from this pandemic is coming soon. Please allow time for vaccinations to roll out and cases to come down before returning our schools to full capacity.\u2019\u201d\r\n\r\nBeam said he spoke to the Pocahontas County Health Department and was informed that it will follow all directives from the Governor, and Beam said the school system must continue to work with the health department through this pandemic.\r\n\r\n\u201cThey very clearly stated to me that the health department will follow whatever the governor\u2019s guidelines are,\u201d he said. \u201cIf any county decides to do anything other than what the governor says, then you can see the possible ramifications if you\u2019re not in lock step with the county health department. Our county health department has been fabulous through this whole process, and we want to continue that working relationship with them.\u201d\r\n\r\nBeam said there is a lot of controversy statewide regarding the governor\u2019s directive to return to five days of in-school instruction. He has discussed the issue with several fellow superintendents, as well as board attorney Jason Long, who said several boards of education have decided to disregard the directive and continue to have remote learning as an option.\r\n\r\n\u201cTaylor County, Marion County and Upshur County \u2013\u00a0the boards all voted to ignore the governor\u2019s order and stay remote,\u201d Beam said. \u201cThey did that not understanding \u2013 in his opinion\u00a0\u2013 that there could be ramifications for those decisions, and that\u2019s why I was saying earlier I don\u2019t want us to make a rash decision and go back and change it.\u201d\r\n\r\nOther superintendents said they will follow the governor\u2019s mandate, but are still concerned about gaining local control and being able to make the final decision what should happen in their respective counties.\r\n\r\nDuring the re-entry plan discussion, there were 38 employees and community members attending the meeting through Zoom and several of them voiced their concerns and shared input in regard to the governor\u2019s mandate and what they think is best for the schools.\u00a0\r\n\r\nHillsboro Elementary School principal Rebecca Spencer asked the board if it could be changed in the re-entry plan to have the students eat lunch in the cafeteria. As it is now, the teachers have to give up their lunch time to feed the students in the classrooms.\r\n\r\nSpencer said she is able to socially distance the students in the cafeteria on three lunch shifts and this will also allow the teachers a lunch break.\r\n\r\nThe board voted on this portion of the re-entry plan and approved to allow HES students to eat in the cafeteria.\r\n\r\nSchool nurse Jenny Friel gave an update on the COVID-19 vaccines, which will be administered to school employees.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe are being asked to offer it to our full-time staff that are age fifty and above first,\u201d Friel said. \u201cThis is the Moderna vaccine, so after the first dose, you have to wait, I think it\u2019s twenty-eight days for the second dose. Here\u2019s the kicker \u2013\u00a0you are not fully vaccinated according to the CDC until twenty-one days after that second dose. So we are looking at a timeline that could possibly bring us into the end of February, beginning of March. I feel that we need to look at this when we consider what we\u2019re going to do for our children.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe first round of vaccines were administered Thursday to full-time employees who are 50 and older. Friel said the rest of the 50 and older individuals who are interested in the vaccine will receive theirs this week. In three weeks, the vaccine will be available for employees under the age of 50.\u00a0\r\n\r\nFriel added that she is compiling a list of substitutes who are interested in receiving the vaccine, as well.\r\n\r\nIn regard to the students, Friel said she received information from the State Department of Education giving an explanation as to why it is okay for elementary and middle school students to attend school, while the high school students don\u2019t have to when the map is red.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe CPS [Child Protective Services] referrals have gone down tremendously because we don\u2019t have staff checking in on those students because we cannot see what\u2019s going on,\u201d she said. \u201cI think they\u2019re very concerned at the state level about our elementary and middle school students who are definitely falling between the cracks.\r\n\r\n\u201cI know just here locally \u2013\u00a0[this week] \u2013 there was a very disturbing case that happened that perhaps could\u2019ve been caught if we would have had those students in a school setting,\u201d she continued. \u201cIt\u2019s very scary, and we\u2019re going to do everything we can to keep everyone safe.\u201d\r\n\r\nBoard members gave their opinions on the mandate and what they feel Pocahontas County should do once schools do return to session.\r\n\r\nSam Gibson said he disagreed with sending elementary and middle school students, but not high school students because there are families with children of both age groups and to send one child, but not another did not make sense to him.\r\n\r\nSue Hollandsworth said she would follow the rules set forth by Governor Justice.\r\n\r\nThe board scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, January 14, at 10 a.m. to discuss the re-entry plan again, and the decisions made by the State Board of Education at its meeting January 13.