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Lengthy discussions but no action at BOE

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

At the January 26 Pocahontas County Board of Education, county athletic directors Kristy Tritapoe, Nebraska Scotchie and Julie Shifflet shared their concerns about the upcoming high school and middle school basketball season.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the winter sports have been pushed back and the basketball season will be shorter. There are also a number of guidelines schools must follow to ensure the safety of both the teams and visitors during each game.

“It’s a little bit different than the fall because those sports were outside,” Tritapoe said. “Now we’re talking about bringing all these kids inside, into the gym.”

Among the concerns shared was the cost of hiring a security team to check tickets at each home game. Due to the pandemic restrictions, volunteers and school employees are not allowed to work at the games and so a security team is required to make sure they only allow ticket holders into the game.

All ticket sales are done pregame – with an equal number of tickets sold for the home and away teams. 

In addition to allowing a security team into the facilities, the three directors were also concerned about having visitors in the schools since the number of visitors allowed in the schools has been kept to a minimum for several months.

According to the WVSSAC guidelines, each school is allowed to have 20 percent of its gymnasium’s capacity at each game. This number includes the members and coaches for each team, and a limited number of spectators allowed at the games.

With all the restrictions and concerns, the directors wanted the board’s opinion on how they should proceed.

“We want to do what’s best for the kids,” Scotchie said. “We don’t want to take away everything kids love, and we know the positive things of sports.”

Board president Dr. Sue Hollandsworth explained that she didn’t think it was up to the board to make the decision, but rather each school should determine if the risk is worth the reward.

“Listening to all of the concerns, I think that it’s not our job to do that – it’s Kristy and Julie and Nebraska’s place to do that – to decide if it’s worth it,” she said. “I agree with all of your concerns, and I see where you’re coming from.

“I think the question is – is it worth it for nineteen ballgames?”

During the reentry plan discussion, board member Sam Gibson said he has had several complaints about how school closures for snow days are handled.

Although it was not part of the reentry plan, Gibson wanted to discuss the issue.

Several board members stated their opinions, agreeing that it is difficult to know what the weather will do in Pocahontas County, and because it is so inconsistent, it is hard to make a decision.

“I would love to be able to say, ‘God, what kind of weather are you going to give us for five days?’” John Burns said. “Nobody knows. When the snow falls out of the sky, there’s nothing you or I or anybody can do about it.

“Another thing is, the weather from one end of the county to the next is so different,” Morgan McComb added.

“I can say, on Monday morning, I was supposed to go to Beckley and I tried, but I couldn’t get across Droop Mountain,” Hollandsworth said.

Gibson reiterated that he feels the decision could be made every morning, early in the morning.

Superintendent Terrence Beam and Director of Transportation Ruth Bland work together to decide on snow days, as well as delays and early dismissal days. There are times Beam and Bland are able to make that decision the evening prior to the school day, while other times, they have to wait until the early morning.

Bland explained that she monitors the weather as closely as possible and is unable to get updates from the West Virginia Department of Highways because there is no longer night watchmen at the county’s garages.

As the discussion continued and Gibson continued to ask for more consistency, the air grew tense. Bland explained her methods in deciding snow days.

“I’ve got notes here,” Gibson said.

“Then give me the notes and I’ll see what you want me to do,” Bland said. “I want you to write down exactly what you want me to do, how you want me to do it, and Mr. Beam and I will do that. Please produce it now because I may have a snow day tomorrow.”

“Here’s what I want you to do,” Gibson said. “I want you to get up in the morning.”

“I do,” Bland countered.

“Continue to do that,” Gibson replied.

“So you’re telling me – you’re a board member telling me that I have to get up at four a.m. every morning,” Bland asked.

“If that’s the job, then yeah,” Gibson answered.

“I am sorry, but I do not take direct orders from board members,” Bland said. “I take them from my superintendent.”

As the discussion continued, Bland asked Gibson why he did not call her prior to the meeting to get information concerning snow days. She said she has told him several times to call the directors at the board office when he has concerns or questions about policies and the way the school system operates.

“I’ve asked you three or four times in the past, before you come to the meetings, please call the directors and get the information ahead of time,” she said. “You did not. I want to know why you won’t.”

“For one thing, I didn’t have time to call today,” Gibson said. “Number two, the point is we come to these meetings to discuss these issues.”

“We are here to discuss the issues that are on the agenda,” Bland said. “This is not part of the reentry plan.”

Hollandsworth addressed Gibson and explained that she has been in the school system for a long time and the snow day issue has come up each year. There will always be parents who are not happy with when school is called off, and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Bland pointed out that there have been only one and a half snow days this school year.

McComb, who was also an employee of the school system for many years before becoming a board member, tried to explain to Gibson that while it is their job to listen to the concerns of the community, it’s impossible to make everyone happy all the time.

“I still want to advocate for consistency,” Gibson reiterated. “We can still be somewhat consistent.”

In regard to snow days, Hollandsworth said that in her opinion, the school system is as consistent as possible.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday, February 16, at 5:30 p.m., beginning with a calendar hearing, at the board of education conference room at Buckeye.

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