POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Board of Education voted to amend the re-entry plan on Tuesday evening at its regular business meeting.
After discussion, board members approved to amend the re-entry plan to have students attend four days in person and one remote day. With this new, “4:1” plan, all students will be required to wear masks at all times, except during meal time. The plan was passed 4 to 1 with Board President Dale Shobe voting against the change.
Students in the blended option will be attending in-person classes on Monday-Thursday with Friday being the remote learning day. The new schedule will begin on Nov. 16.
In addition to this amendment, the board also voted to change the wording of the re-entry plan to allow any student to change their learning “platform” — virtual learning or blended learning. The original plan stated that a child could change their platform one time, either in the first three weeks of school or at the end of a nine-week period. After discussion on interpretation, board members decided to count a possible switch in the first few weeks as a “choice” rather than a “change.” The board unanimously approved to amend the plan to state that a change in platform can occur at the end of any nine-weeks one time for the rest of the year.
Board members discussed the amendments in length with input from administrators in attendance and the Mason County Health Department. Board members were in agreement that safety was important, but they expressed they also had to do what was best for the education of the students. Many members feared that by going to school only two days per week was causing some students to fall behind.
It was also a concern that virtual students were not succeeding and, therefore, the board wanted to allow them the chance to make a change to blended, in-person learning. Board Member Ashley Cossin also suggested that some parents might not want their child to attend four days, where there would be more students in the classrooms and buildings.
Regarding the 4:1 change, some teachers from Point Pleasant Primary School and Beale Elementary asked the board to keep the 2:3 blended learning plan. Reasons for this included social distancing and consistency.
The board acknowledged that moving to a 4:1 plan would have all blended learning students in the buildings at the same time. Supt. Jack Cullen said the number of students on the bus and in classrooms would double. Cullen said in the elementary buildings, core groups would not be able to achieve social distancing. Cullen also said the potential “cross contamination” in the secondary buildings would increase.
The superintendent and board members met with the health department before the meeting to discuss options and suggestions on moving forward. County Health Administrator Dr. Wes Lieving said medically, there is no difference in a 4:1 schedule and a 5:0 schedule. Cullen said the teachers requested having the one remote day to allow them to plan for virtual students.
In the discussion, Board Member Jared Billings said he has worked with patients with the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Billings said he believes students are suffering by not being in the classrooms. He said schools are given guidelines for a reason and thinks following those will keep students and staff safe. Billings did say that the schools will most likely see positive cases either way.
Board Member Rhonda Tennant said that she is “skeptical and cautious” of moving to a 4:1 schedule, but thought it was best for the students.
Board Member Meagan Bonecutter said she did not want the younger elementary students to be required to wear masks in the core groups. Bonecutter said if the students would have to quarantine either way, she questioned why they were required to wear masks. Cossin said the masks could mean the difference in more kids becoming ill and no students becoming ill.
Food Service Director Beverly Glaze said that she would be switching the meal pick up from Wednesday to Friday for virtual students.
The board also said they would be keeping two bus routes to help with distancing.
School administrators will be contacting families with instructions for changing the student’s platform.
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Kayla (Hawthorne) Dunham is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, ext. 1992.