Another long discussion about COVID-19 mandates, filled with opinions, rumors and statistics, took place at the Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting Monday afternoon at Pocahontas County High School.
Parents, staff members, students and community members addressed the board with concerns about the possibilities of vaccine and mask mandates.
During the heated discussion, individuals stated that the board has no right to require vaccinations for students or staff, while others said they feel there should be a mask mandate at least to keep students and staff safe.
Board members listened to each individual and shared their own stance on mandates. Of the four members in attendance – John Burns was unable to connect through Zoom – only one member, Sam Gibson, was pro mask mandate and vaccine mandate.
Gibson made a motion to require vaccines for all eligible staff, but it died for lack of a second.
Moving on to masks, board president Sue Hollandworth said she was wary of passing a mandate for masks if it was not possible for the students to also be six feet apart at all times.
Last school year, when the mandate both required masks and six feet social distancing, Pocahontas County High School students only attended two days of in-person school a week. Hollandsworth said she did not want to return to that and instead wants the students to continue a five-day a week schedule.
However, Hollandsworth did make a motion to try a mask mandate requiring all students and staff to wear masks inside the schools for a three-week period. She added if there was a noticeable difference in the number of COVID cases in the schools after that trial period, the mandate would be revisited at the next board meeting.
The motion died for lack of a second.
The board did change several items in the reentry plan including that students must observe three feet social distancing at school and if the vaccine mandate is revisited during future meetings, it will be listed on the agenda separately and not be part of the reentry plan discussion.
• Superintendent Terrence Beam gave a report on several items of business taking place. The Needs Project application for air conditioning in Marlinton Elementary School, Hillsboro Elementary School and Pocahontas County High School has been submitted to the West Virginia School Building Authority. Beam said the application is asking for $7.5 million to outfit the three schools with new HVAC systems.
He reported that plans to use American Recovery Plan funding for new HVAC systems at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School and Marlinton Middle School are moving forward, and he hopes to have both projects out for bid in November.
The LED project with Wendel Energy Savings is underway and all five schools have already received some LED lights. The project will continue until all lights in the school system are replaced with energy efficient LED lights.
Beam reported that GBEMS will go to remote learning for the next few days due to staffing issues. He said six staff members are currently quarantined, and it has been difficult to find substitutes to come into the school. Once the staff members return to work, the school will return to in person learning.
Lastly, Beam reported that he is concerned for the school staff and has received messages from several who say they are beyond stressed because of the current upswing in quarantining due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak. Teachers are concerned about students who have to quarantine, saying they will get behind on their studies.
Beam suggested that one way to help alleviate some stress is to return to a half day on Wednesday to allow teachers to catch their breath and prepare lessons for students who have to quarantine.
The board said it was amenable to the idea if it was approved by the West Virginia Department of Education which stated that all schools need to be in session for five full days a week. Beam said he would reach out to the WVDE to see if a half-day on Wednesday is possible.
Beam added that the board office staff, principals and faculty senate presidents will meet to discuss other ways to alleviate stress for the staff.
In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:
• Faculty senate allocations for the 2021-2022 school year: Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, $8,443.91; Hillsboro Elementary School, $3,839.16; Marlinton Elementary School, $7,035.96; Marlinton Middle School, $5,661.33; and Pocahontas County High School, $12,439.64.
• Parent and community volunteers for the 2021-2022 school year.
• New Neola policies: Athletic Coaches and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Instruction.
• Revised Neola polices: Supplemental Salary for National Board Certification, Food Services and Wellness.
In personnel management, the board approved the following:
• Employment of Darla J. Huddle as half-time teacher of art at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, at statement minimum salary, retroactive to August 12, for the 2021-2022 school year. Term of employment is 200 one-half days.
• Resignation of E. Jamey Weber, due to retirement, as teacher at Marlinton Elementary School, effective October 1, 2021.
• Requested transfer of Jennifer L. McCarty as special education/autism teacher at Marlinton Middle School to teacher of multi-subjects at Marlinton Elementary School, at state minimum salary, effective October 4, for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year. Term of employment is 163 days, in addition to the days already worked. Term of employment shall be 200 days each year thereafter.
• Requested transfer of Shonda E. Carr as teacher of preschool/preschool special needs at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School to itinerant teacher of special education, multi-categorical/autism at Marlinton Elementary School, at state minimum salary, effective October 4, for the remainder of 2021-2022 school year. Term of employment is 163 days, in addition to the days already worked. Term of employment shall be 200 days each year thereafter.
• Employment of Casondra Griffith as after-school teacher at Pocahontas County High School, at $22 per hour, four days a week, two hours per day, 32 weeks, not to exceed $5,632, effective August 30, 2021 to May 6, 2022.
• Resignation of Jessica M. Beard as substitute aide and substitute cook for Pocahontas County Schools, per her request, retroactive to September 1, 2021.
• Leave of absence for Scott E. Garber as head boys basketball coach for the 2021-2022 athletic season, no supplement, returning for the 2022-2023 athletic season at a supplement of $2,475.
• Assignment of Kathy L. Mason as interim head boys basketball coach for the 2021 athletic season, at a supplement of $2,475, returning as assistant boys basketball coach for the 2022-2023 athletic season, at a supplement of $750.
• Permission to post two extra duty assignments, for the ordering, preparation and distribution of Marlinton Elementary School Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, one hour per day, three days per week per assignment, at daily rate of pay. To be paid for by FFVP grant. Term of duty will be October 1, 2021 to May 30, 2022, or upon exhaustion of grant funds.
The next board meeting will be Tuesday, October 12, at 6 p.m., at the board of education conference room.
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