POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Board of Education met on Tuesday evening and approved the re-entry plan for the 2020-21 school year.
The plan, which was recommended by Supt. Jack Cullen, was approved with two amendments by the board.
One of the two amendments was to change the policy for when families can change between the virtual option and the blended option. The recommended plan and policy said that a parent had to select either the completely virtual option or the blended option of two days in person and three days remote and could only change within the first two weeks of school. The amended plan and policy unanimously approved by the board states that a parent can change the plan for their child one time during the school year — either within the first three weeks or after a nine-week period.
The discussion on this came after board member Jared Billings said some parents did not think two weeks was enough time to decide if the virtual or blended plan was not working. Board members agreed they did not want families to “yo-yo” between options, which would be stressful on students and teachers.
The next amendment was regarding masks. Board member Ashley Cossin said she was “not happy” about the policy and plan stating that masks were recommended for students in pre-k through second grade, but required for those third through 12th grade. Cossin said the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends children over the age of two to wear masks. Cossin also said that she did research and spoke with physicians and school nurses outside of the area to have an understanding of the science behind the governor requiring masks above the age of 9.
Board members Rhonda Tennant and Dale Shobe were in agreement that all students and schools should be “united” in wearing masks to protect all students and staff.
The board passed the motion to require masks for all students in grades pre-k through 12th in common areas, when social distancing cannot be maintained and when not in their “core group.” The motion was passed with board members Jared Billings and Meagan Bonecutter opposing.
The re-entry plan gives students and parents the option of selecting between the virtual plan or a blended plan.
The blended plan has students in the classrooms two days per week and at home for remote learning three days per week.
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.
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.
During the meeting, the board of education heard from administrators and parents during outside delegations. Elementary Principal Adam Watson said he was part of the county re-entry committee and he said he is “in support of this plan.” Watson said his number one priority is the safety of the students. He reminded everyone that the goal was to have all students back for all five days.
Elementary Assistant Principal Maria Eshenaur spoke in favor of the plan and said it was best academically. Eshenaur said there are positives to the situation and the schools should see them and use them. According to Eshenaur, these positives include two bus routes, students will get more attention in the classroom and possibly having the area noticed and receiving better internet coverage.
A parent also spoke in support of the plan. This parent said the plan is “not perfect,” but gives options to families.
Nicole Blessing, an aide at New Haven Elementary and parent to an incoming freshman, said that as an employee and parent, she would prefer going to school five days per week. Blessing said she fears her child will be “left behind” because he has no internet.
Another parent, who said she works in the healthcare field said the virtual option is “nice,” but she is not always around until late in the evening to help her students with school work. This parent also said she does not see how going two days per week would be that beneficial in reducing contact.
A third parent asked if virtual students would be allowed to participate in sports. Supt. Cullen said there are different guidelines for sports that will be addressed. This parent also asked about the elementary students getting out of school earlier and not being allowed to get off the bus without an older student or parent. The parent asked the board to consider allowing secondary students to begin earlier than elementary.
The next regular business meeting for the Mason County Board of Education is scheduled for Aug. 11 at 6 p.m.
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Kayla (Hawthorne) Dunham is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, ext. 1992.