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Kyle Lovern/Williamson Daily News The Mingo County Board of Education debated changes in the Alternative Education program at its meeting this past Tuesday night.

CINDERELLA - After a lengthy debate on possible changes to Mingo County Schools' Alternative Education program at last week's regular Board of Education meeting, nothing was decided.

A vote on a proposal to reconfigure an alternative education teacher's position ended in a stalemante, with two yes votes, two no votes and one abstention.

The proposal would restructure the current program to one which would allow students to be instructed at home by a certified teacher via an online virtual classroom. This would also include in-home visits by a social worker and meetings once a week with family members and those involved in the alternative education program.

After much discussion, BOE President Sabrina Grace and board member John Preece voted against the proposed home-based program. Grace suggested that some of the more beneficial elements of the proposal could be implemented into the current "brick and mortar" setting which would allow students to remain in a school setting.

Board members Tom Slone and Hank Starr voted for the revamped program, pointing out what they viewed as faults in the current program. They both felt the new home-based proposal should be given a chance.

Board member James Ed Baisden abstained, suggesting that the two sides should work together to come up with a new program that will be mutually agreeable to both. Baisden seemed to agree that the new approach should be given serious consideration. "The current one is not working," said Baisden.

Some who opposed the change were representatives from the American Federation of Teachers-Mingo (AFT-Mingo) and the Mingo County Education Association (MCEA), as well as current alternative education teacher Kathy Farmer, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

While agreeing that the existing program is flawed and in need of restructuring, the union representatives said by not replacing Farmer in the current classroom setting and essentially putting the responsibility of these students' education in theirs and the parents' hands would be a bad situation and make it worse.

While addressing the issue, MCEA President Brandon Wolford said that, while the majority of the county's teachers agree the current program needs restructuring, most of those he polled were against eliminating the classroom setting and going solely to an online virtual classroom. He presented some comments he had received from some teachers to the BOE members.

"Almost everyone agrees that it's not working the best that it can at this time, but we also think it shouldn't be abolished completely," said Wolford. "As you guys know, we're very limited on how we can do our discipline by taking this position away, we're basically down to nothing. After-school detention and suspension are about the only two things you can do."

Wolford said if the threat of alternative education in a brick-and-mortar setting is taken away, these students are basically "being told they can go home - and what kind of punishment is that?"

AFT-Mingo President Sherrie Spence said another potential problem with the virtual school, particularly for those in special education, is that the students fall behind academically. She said in many cases they could be put back into a home where they're going to become even more emotionally problematic.

"Some kids don't need to be in the home an additional eight hours; they're already dysfunctional and they're going to be in a home that much longer without any support, and that's just going to make their lives even harder," she said.

Assistant Superintendent Johnny Branch gave a presentation for the proposed alternative education program. He explained that the goal was to develop a plan which would ultimately be the most beneficial to the students, and that he, Superintendent Don Spence and other district staff believe this had been mostly achieved with the new plan.

"Because Alternative Education for disruptive students is allowed under state code and policy, removal from the school setting is warranted for certain behaviors," Branch said.

"The Mingo County Schools district office staff developed a plan to restructure the Alternative Education Program for disruptive students, taking into consideration the challenges of the program and others around the state similar to it, as well as experiences in the efficiency of the instructional program and in the management of some student behavior," he added.

Branch said the district's proposed plan would be for a home-based approach, with students being able to receive instruction through virtual learning facilitated by a certified teacher. He said students would still be enrolled in most of the core classes being offered in their schools.

"There is also an instructional delivery option for students with no home Internet access," he said.

"The plan includes weekly tutoring sessions, special topic presentations to encourage personal responsibility, counseling services and sessions with school social workers," Spence stressed.

The subject will be taken up again at a future meeting.

Kyle Lovern is editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at 304-236-3526 or via e-mail at klovern@HDMediaLLC.com.

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