POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Board of Education met on Wednesday evening to discuss the reentry plan for students for the 2020-21 school year.
Supt. Jack Cullen presented the board with a template from the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) about topics that need to be included in the reentry plan for the schools.
The topics that need to be addressed in the reentry plan include virtual school, professional learning and development for staff, social distancing, masks, visitors, cleaning and disinfection protocols, social-emotional wellness, screening students and staff, child nutrition, and transpiration.
The school board has to submit a plan to the WVDE by Aug. 14.
In discussing these topics, Cullen said that in the first survey for parents, they received 1,398 responses. Cullen said 75 percent said they would have their children return to school, while 25 percent said they would not.
In a second survey with 1,020 responses, Cullen said that 45 percent of parents want in-person schooling and 50 percent said they wanted virtual schooling. The other five percent said they would prefer to home school.
Regarding social distancing, Cullen said some buildings have the option to move extra items out of the classrooms to have as much space for students as possible. Restrooms and locker rooms will be have marks six feet apart.
The topic of masks came up a few times during the meeting on Wednesday night. Cullen said masks would be required in hallways, classrooms, cafeterias, buses, etc. Cullen said the topic would be further discussed and address as he believes many people are split on the issue.
Board member Jared Billings said he thinks masks will be a distraction in the classroom.
Mask usage came up again when the board discussed having Plexiglass in offices that can’t be socially distant and whether or not Plexiglas is needed on bus between the driver and students entering. Board member Ashley Cossin said that the drivers do not have the option to “step back” when students are entering the buses. Cullen said masks would be required for both parties. Cossin then asked if the “double masking” was acceptable in that case, why would the school need Plexiglass in offices.
Cossin also said if the governor is still mandating the use of masks in indoor settings and where social distancing is not possible, then the students need to wear the masks. Board member Meagan Bonecutter asked if they were going to deny the students their right to education if they will not wear a mask?
Board member Dale Shobe asked how the students would obtain masks. Cullen said the transportation department is getting around 5,000 disposable masks. The district as a whole has around 12,000 masks total. Cullen said each child will have three masks — one of them being from the state department with their school specific logo printed on.
The board said the masks policy is on the agenda for next week.
Cullen said visitors in schools would be limited.
If a student or staff member has symptoms, they can not be screened in the nurses station, but must go to an isolation room, according to Cullen. The school system is looking at ways to add nursing staff.
Regarding disinfecting and cleaning protocols, the schools have purchased sprayers that will disinfect rooms and buses. In the buildings, the custodial staff will be using them to clean throughout the building. Cossin asked if there was a way to employ more people to the custodial staff because of the extra procedures. Cullen said they will look into available grants.
Cullen brought up the topic of social-emotional wellness as a potential problem for many students. The district is looking to add more social workers to help students cope with the change.
Meals during the school days will be wrapped to eliminate contact with other people.
In addition to the disinfecting sprayers, the transportation department is looking at the possibility of making two runs in the morning and evening to allow for more distancing between students. This would change the start and end time of schools, but Cullen said it would be very similar.
Billings ask about the financial burden on the school by adding new staff and safety measures.
A parent of a student came to the meeting to discuss the comments and concerns she has received from other parents. She presented the board with a list of topics. These included protocols for infected staff or students, testing, will quarantined staff have to use their own sick or vacation days, lack of nurses, will students get additional allowed absences, students and teachers with no internet, the risk of food allergies and wearing a mask, parents concerned about signing a waiver to relinquish the school of responsibility if the child gets sick or dies, etc.
The board said they will review the concerns and take them into consideration when making decisions.
The board decided to not make a decision on how many days to return to school and will wait until the next meeting to further discuss the topic.
Billings said the school board will have to be as transparent as possible with everyone as they continue the discussion.
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Kayla Hawthorne is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, ext. 1992.