Pocahontas County Schools Nurse Jenny Friel spoke to the Board of Education (BOE) at its February 1 meeting about the updated WV BOE’s COVID-19 protocols which were released January 31.
She said these new protocols recognized that the decision to require an in-school mask mandate rests with each local BOE, and therefore the new protocols are divided into those for mask mandated counties and those for counties such as Pocahontas County that do not have a school mask mandate.
One of the major differences is that the rules for requiring contract tracing for positive cases among students and staff remain in place for school systems without a mask mandate, while contact tracing may be discontinued for school systems which have a school mask mandate.
Another change in these protocols is for anyone who tests positive or has to quarantine, the first date they test positive, or were exposed to someone who has, is now considered to be day zero instead of day one. The policy requires schools to require anyone who was exposed or who tests positive to stay home for five days (not including day zero). They can return to school for days six through 10 if asymptomatic, but they must wear a mask in school through day 10 even if the school doesn’t have a mask mandate. Nurse Jenny said enforcing this with students has proven to be very difficult. She said that if someone is not willing to wear a mask on days six through 10, they must remain at home.
Friel said that under the policy, if someone in our schools voluntarily wears a mask at all times while in school and are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19, they are not required to quarantine.
Friel said she has been working with the County Health Department, and it is their belief that the COVID pandemic is becoming more of an “endemic” similar to a seasonal flu outbreak, but the State Department of Education still doesn’t see it that way. She also said that our numbers here are better than those of school systems that enforce strict mask mandates.
As of the night of the BOE meeting, Nurse Jenny said those numbers are:
• Two positive staff members
• Six positive students
• 46 students under quarantine (although 10 of these are due to be released by February 2.)
• Zero staff quarantined.
PCHS Principal Joe Riley presented very encouraging graduation numbers and projections to the board members. Last year 90.45 percent of the seniors graduated in four years. Of those graduating this year, 61 percent say they are going on to college, 33 percent say they are going into the workforce and six percent say they are joining the military, including one who begins Marine Boot Camp the day after he graduates. This year’s graduation is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22.
Superintendent Beam told the board that only 17 students voluntarily remain in virtual instruction. He also said he feels the board should review the school reentry plan next meeting because of the revised state COVID policy. Beam said the county will be one of 18 counties starting a “grow your own” teacher program. Working with Glenville State College, special courses will be offered at PCHS so potential education majors can take courses enabling them to skip their first year of college at Glenville and spend their senior year doing their student teaching in our school system.
In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:
• The contract with Integrated Speech Solutions to perform speech therapy evaluations, treatment and related duties via telepractice in Pocahontas County Schools, beginning January 18, for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year.
• Resolution for HVAC System Equipment purchase for Wendel Energy Services, LLC, to purchase equipment, if necessary, for ESSER HVAC project.
• Revision of Addendum to the 63-month lease agreement with Xerox Financial Services, LLC.
• Parent and community volunteers for the 2021-2022 school year.
In personnel management, the board approved the following:
• Unpaid medical leave of Holly N. Chestnut as teacher of social studies at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, effective on or about February 19, or upon exhaustion of personal leave, for a period of up to 12 weeks, as needed.
• Reclassification of Tabeatha J. McCoy as itinerant supervisory special education classroom aide/bus aid for Pocahontas County Schools to itinerant supervisory special education classroom aide/bus aid/autism mentor for Pocahontas County Schools pursuant to West Virginia Code 18A-4-8(I), retroactive to November 4, 2021.
• Employment of Kathy M. Irvine and Jessica N. Taylor as restricted substitute teachers for Pocahontas County Schools, at state basic pay, based on degree and experience, for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year, as needed.
• Permission to post itinerant teacher of art – Marlinton Middle School and Green Bank Elementary-Middle School – commencing the 2022-2023 school year. Term of employment shall be 200 days.
• Permission to post itinerant teacher of CTE middle school exploratory commencing the 2022-2023 school year. Term of employment shall be 200 days.
The next board meeting will be Tuesday, February 22, beginning with a calendar hearing at 5:30 p.m., immediately followed by the regular meeting, in the board of education conference room.