Suzanne Stewart\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\u00a0\r\nAt the Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting September 22, the board discussed the ever changing guidelines for students to return to school safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.\r\n\r\nSchools returned September 8 with half the students attending in person Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays are used to deep clean the facilities as a precaution. Students who did not feel safe returning to school were given the option to attend school virtually online.\r\n\r\nAfter the first two weeks were successful, the board, superintendent Terrence Beam, board office directors and principals discussed the re-entry plan at the meeting to see if changes could be made.\u00a0\r\n\r\n\u201cWe cannot supersede the guidelines of six feet apart,\u201d Beam said. \u201cWe cannot supersede the guidelines of wearing masks. We are not going to force parents to send their kids back to school if they don\u2019t feel comfortable doing so.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe want to give the schools latitude in making recommendations to the board,\u201d he continued. \u201cThey know their schools best. They know their schedules. They know the number of students they have. They know the size of their classrooms and the movement of the students in the room. They know the climate of the community and how they feel about this.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe discussion turned to whether or not it would be possible for each school to have the entire student body return for four days of in-person instruction.\r\n\r\nPocahontas County High School principal Joe Riley was unable to attend the meeting but he shared his opinion with Beam who read Riley\u2019s response aloud.\r\n\r\n\u201cHe wrote back, \u2018yes it would be hard for us to social distance,\u2019\u201d Beam said. \u201c\u2018I would have forty-one classes that we could not social distance. I would also have teaching in the gym. This would mean that we would have to have more folding tables and physical education would not be able to use the gym during lunch. However, students are struggling with the remote learning.\u2019 So that was his response. Mr. Riley is not looking at any changes at the high school at this point.\u201d\r\n\r\nJoining the meeting through Zoom, Hillsboro Elementary School principal Rebecca Spencer, Marlinton Middle School principal Nebraska Scotchie, Green Bank Elementary-Middle School principal Julie Shiflet and Marlinton Elementary School principal Phillip Anderson reported on their school\u2019s opinion on four-days of instruction.\r\n\r\nSpencer reported that HES could, in fact, have its entire student body return safely.\r\n\r\n\u201cHillsboro is able to do the six foot apart social distancing and follow all the guidelines, and still bring all of our students back,\u201d she said. \u201cThe largest class size we have would be fourteen, and we\u2019ve measured and put all of the little desks in the classrooms. We can still get six feet apart from desk to desk. We would not have any problem bringing all of our kids back.\u201d\r\n\r\nScotchie reported that, at this time, MMS cannot social distance with all the students in attendance.\u00a0\r\n\r\n\u201cUnfortunately, we\u2019re in the same boat that Joe Riley is in because we are eating in the cafeteria,\u201d she said. \u201cIf we could lift the guidelines of six feet apart in the classrooms and wear masks at all times, I could bring all of my students back, but I\u2019m not able to maintain six feet in the classrooms because I don\u2019t have small desks. If I had desks I could do it.\u201d\r\n\r\nScotchie said several of her classrooms use tables instead of desks which makes it more difficult to socially distance.\r\n\r\nShiflet had the same sentiment, stating that GBEMS is unable to welcome back all students at this time.\r\n\r\n\u201cI really need to be cognizant of the whole school approach to consider the families with their childcare when we\u2019re bringing students back,\u201d she said. \u201cI have some classrooms that we absolutely could make this happen with, but I have a lot that we couldn\u2019t safely social distance with the students in the class.\r\n\r\n\u201cI talked to my teachers and they are all on board,\u201d she continued. \u201cThey do definitely want us to consider how we can pursue avenues to bring all students back, but they\u2019re definitely concerned about the social distancing, and they feel very confident that we cannot safely do that for our students right now. We will definitely do anything that you would like us to look at \u2013\u00a0we will look at our schedules and make changes.\u201d\r\n\r\nAnderson also stated that MES is unable to have the student body return in full.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe cannot achieve the six foot distancing,\u201d he said. \u201cStaff and kids have adjusted well to the guidelines, and right now I\u2019m looking at quality and quantity and the teachers are able to get a lot more one-on-one instruction and that\u2019s a positive.\r\n\r\n\u201cOur teachers want the students back but with the guidelines as they are now, there\u2019s no way that we can achieve that in most of our classrooms,\u201d he continued. \u201cI did measure and walk off the floors and worked the numbers, and we can achieve that in four classrooms right now.\u201d\r\n\r\nAnderson said that although four classes could return fully, he felt the same as Shiflet and would prefer to have the entire school return instead of a few classes at a time.\r\n\r\nAfter the discussion, board president Sue Hollandsworth made a motion stating, \u201cto approve the return to a four day week for low functioning special ed students as identified by their teachers and the return of all students to a four day week if the classroom can fit them in and still maintain social distancing. All of this is contingent upon parent and school approval.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe board unanimously approved the motion.\r\n\r\nHollandsworth added that students are not required to return to a four day week of in-person instruction. The final decision is left up to the parents.\r\n\r\nBeam stated that discussion and possible action on the re-entry plan will be placed on each board meeting agenda to allow the board to receive updates and make decisions to alter the plan.\r\n\r\nIn updates:\r\n\r\n\u2022 In his report, Beam shared that West Virginia Wesleyan College donated 24 microscopes to Pocahontas County High School\u2019s science department and Wood County Schools donated welding equipment for the PCHS CTE [Career and Technical Education] department.\r\n\r\nBeam added that last Wednesday was West Virginia Schools Service Personnel Day, and he recognized the school system\u2019s service personnel for their continued dedication to the students of Pocahontas County.\u00a0\r\n\r\n\u2022 Student representative Jacob Kinnison reported that students are doing well with following the social distancing guidelines at PCHS and trying to keep up morale during this difficult time.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019re as happy as can be,\u201d he said. \u201cThere are arrows in the hallways and rules we have to follow that we didn\u2019t have to follow in past years, and we\u2019re learning. We\u2019re going along with it. We\u2019re trying our best.\u00a0\r\n\r\n\u201cSenior nights \u2013\u00a0they\u2019ve been going very well, and we\u2019re very thankful that we get to do that,\u201d he continued. \u201cI would like to thank everyone that\u2019s allowed that to happen. The first home games [for boys and girls soccer and football] were senior nights to recognize the seniors. That means a lot to the seniors and to the players on every team.\u201d\r\n\r\nDuring the hear callers portion of the agenda, two county teachers addressed the board concerning the current school climate.\r\n\r\nPCHS agriculture education teacher Erwin Berry presented the board with a suggestion to have teachers cover classes when a teacher is absent instead of hiring a substitute. He provided the board with a written proposal to consider.\r\n\r\nBerry said he is concerned with having substitutes entering the schools due to the pandemic, but understands that teachers should not come to school if they are sick. With fellow teachers covering during an absence, teachers may stay home when sick and the students would still be safe from possible exposure to Covid-19.\r\n\r\n\u2022\u00a0GBEMS music teacher Greg Morgan, who is also president of the Pocahontas County Education Association, thanked the board and board staff for providing schools with PPE [personal protective equipment] and cleaning supplies to keep the schools as sanitary as possible.\r\n\r\n\u201cI am on a chat group with all the other presidents of all the other counties in the state, and I hear a lot of grief every day,\u201d he said. \u201cWhen I go home, my phone starts going \u2018ding, ding, ding,\u2019 and I get all these messages. There are a lot of teachers out there that are scared to go to school every day. They\u2019re not given enough cleaning supplies or PPE.\u00a0\r\n\r\n\u201cSo what I\u2019m here to do is to thank you for giving us PPE and cleaning supplies,\u201d he continued. \u201cI wanted to just come here tonight and thank you for keeping us safe. I can\u2019t wait until it\u2019s over, but thank you. I almost feel ashamed when they\u2019re complaining just to tell them what it\u2019s like here.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe board will have a special meeting, Tuesday, October 6, at 6 p.m., to review and discuss the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP).\r\n\r\nThe next board meeting will be a Local School Improvement Council (LSIC) meeting on Tuesday, October 13, at 3:30 p.m. at Pocahontas County High School.