At its October 13 meeting, the Pocahontas County Board of Education passed a motion to re-open all county schools to in-person instruction beginning Monday, October 26, as long as the local health department was okay with students and teachers wearing masks in classrooms where social distancing is not possible.
The following day, I met with School Superintendent Terrence Beam to clarify what this change will actually mean.
“When we had our board meeting, a lot of our board members were getting calls from parents and not only phone calls, some visits, too” Beam said. “And I have been getting some of the same things about getting our kids back to school four days a week. Mr. Gibson, who is on the board, mentioned that there are fourteen people who he had asked him to try to get something done with this, and the other board members all chimed in and had similar experiences with our citizens wishing to bring our students back to school. So, the motion was made to bring all our students back on October 26, which is two weeks from this past Monday. That will give schools time to plan on getting the kids back. Students must still remain six-feet apart while they eat, because they are unmasked at that time.
“The stipulations were these: first of all, we had to get permission from our county health department to go down this road, which we did receive this morning; second, students would be required to wear masks at all times, all grades, if they cannot social distance, including employees; and third, all students who are in virtual school will still be allowed to stay in virtual school if they choose.
“Now, one of the things that wasn’t mentioned during the discussion was that the students at Marlinton Elementary, Marlinton Middle and Hillsboro, have already begun, or, in some cases, completed the re-entry to four days a week. This does not affect them in any form.
“I told the board that I would design a letter to send out to all five of our principals to communicate with our parents and explain their options. They still have the option to stay two days a week if they prefer, but they will be given the latitude to send them all four days if they choose.”
One of the board members suggested that this might not meet the state’s guidelines for wearing masks. Can you explain why that was incorrect?
“Yes, the reason it was incorrect is because if you wear a mask, you are not required by state mandate to be six-feet apart,” Beam explained. “If you do not wear a mask, you are. That’s why our students wear masks. They sit side-by-side, but they are wearing a mask, or else we couldn’t get our kids to school.”
The students at Hillsboro Elementary, Marlinton Middle and Marlinton Elementary who have already returned to four days of face-to-face instruction are not affected by this, is that correct?
“Right, they are already six feet apart to start with, they came back under those stipulations,” Beam said. “Now, I did have a principal ask if they would be able to move back into the regular classroom, and I said, yes, they would because we have now relaxed the restrictions a little bit, and so they will be able to put them back into a regular classroom instead of out in a hall or in a gymnasium, or wherever they happened to have been.”
At last night’s meeting, Mr. Riley (the Principal at PCHS) said he was considering bringing the freshman class back into 4 days soon. Does this board decision affect that?
“It does change that,” Beam said. “I think that the board is willing to work with the high school in maybe delaying the start if necessary, but they are still going to try and hit that October 26 deadline, but there is always room for a little bit of tweaking as we go along. But this will help all of our kids get back to four days a week, because we think it is very imperative for them to receive the education they need.”
I understand that the elementary students eat lunch in the classroom. Now, if the class is so large that it is impossible to maintain social distancing during lunch, where they have to take their masks off to eat, how will that be addressed?
“That’s what Mrs. Doolittle, our Food Services Director, is working on with our cooks and principals,” Beam replied. “If it is in the classroom, or the library, or the gymnasium, or wherever it happened to be, they still have to maintain the six-foot distancing while they eat their lunch.”