POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Board of Education held a special meeting on Wednesday night to discuss re-entry for the new school year.
The board did not make a decision on a plan, but listened and discussed the superintendent’s recommendation. The board and school system are asking for comments on the plan. There will be another meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4 to continue the discussion and Supt. Jack Cullen asked the board to vote on a plan that evening.
In the plan that Cullen recommended, students and parents would have the option to choose a virtual option for their child or participate in the schools’ blended approach. The blended plan has students attending in school classrooms two days per week and three days of remote learning at home.
For the two days in school, about half the students would attend on Monday and Tuesday — those with last names of “A” through “K.” The other half of the students — names beginning with “L” through “Z” — will attend in person Thursday and Friday. This leaves Wednesday for deep cleaning of the school buildings.
This plan is considered Phase One, according to Cullen. After three weeks, the administrators, nurses and health department will examine the state of the schools and county and consider moving to Phase Two. Phase Two would be all students in the buildings from Monday through Thursday with remote learning on Friday. Before moving to Phase Three, the final phase, the schools will remain here for an additional three weeks before evaluating.
Phase Three would have all students in the building for all five days.
“I know the best place for students to be for instruction is the classroom,” Cullen said. “But I also know, for students and staff, that we have to do the right thing.”
For families who choose to register in virtual school, they will have two options. One option is the Mason County Teacher Led program with online classes from Mason County teachers. Content will be comparable to what those in classrooms are receiving. The other option is the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) Virtual School, which is offered through the state. Students in the second option would be enrolled in Mason County Schools and would earn credits toward graduation at the secondary level.
Parents and students would have the option to switch between the blended plan and virtual school within the first two weeks of school.
Regarding nutrition, students attending in person for two days will go home with three meals to have on the remote learning days. Students in virtual school will have the option to pick up means at specific locations, similar to how students have been fed during the summer.
Students in third grade through 12th must wear a face covering when social distancing cannot be maintained. The plan states that students in pre-k through second grade are recommended to wear a facial covering.
Cullen said that the curriculum for secondary students would be relatively normal. For elementary students, the curriculum would be focused on English language arts and math with science and history being supplementary.
For transportation, there will be two separate routes. Cullen stated the number of students on the bus can be brought down to one quarter with two routes and half the students attending at a time. Buses will also be sanitized between routes.
Visitors in school buildings will be limited and will be screened before entering.
Facilities must be at a limited capacity. Seating at stadiums and gymnasiums will have a capacity set by the health department. Cullen said fans at sporting events will be limited and they will look into a digital ticketing system.
Jennifer Thomas, Mason County Health Department administrator, was at the board meeting on Wednesday to answer questions.
One of the frequently discussed questions was the process regarding if a student tests positive for COVID-19. Thomas said if a student presents symptoms, the schools and health department can recommend that they get tested. While waiting for a test, it is recommended that the rest of the students in that specific classroom, teacher and the other students on the bus with the student be quarantined. Students must be free of symptoms for three days before returning, according to Thomas.
Many board members and parents were concerned that there would be a cycle of quarantines that would cause stress and anxiety for students.
Board member Ashley Cossin also asked about adding more personnel to the custodial staff. Cullen suggested trying at the beginning of the school year with the amount of custodial staff that they schools currently have.
Board President Dale Shobe asked why the whole county could not begin the school year doing virtual schooling. Cullen said that only the governor could put the schools on complete remote or virtual learning unless 100 percent of the parents chose that option.
Board members present in addition to Shobe nad Cossin were Jared Billings, Meagan Bonecutter and Rhonda Tennant.
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Kayla Hawthorne is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, ext. 1992.