CINDERELLA — In a 3-2 decision, the members of the Mingo County Board of Education on Thursday voted to adopt a four-day school re-entry plan for the 2020-2021 academic year.
The adopted plan was one of two possible re-entry scenarios presented to board members to comply with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s plan to open schools statewide on Sept. 8 under COVID-19 guidelines. Under the scenario, known as “Safer at School/Safer at Home,” all students in the county will attend school in-person for four days each week, while remote learning will occur on the fifth day while each building is deep-cleaned.
The fifth day will also be used for virtual instruction, and lessons will be downloaded to student devices the day before to ensure those without adequate internet access will still be able to complete them, according to Mingo County Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Johnny Branch.
The second scenario, known as “blended learning,” would have middle and high school students attending two days in-person and three days remotely, with two groups likely alternating the two-day in-person schedules. Elementary school students would still attend four days of in-person instruction with the fifth day used for remote learning and teacher planning.
The four-day scenario was the plan that ultimately won majority favor, with MCBOE President James Ed Baisden and board members Tom Slone and Machelle McCormick voting to adopt it. The plan was also the one recommended by Superintendent Don Spence.
Board members Sabrina Grace and John Preece were for a different idea altogether: a regular five-day schedule, following guidelines and with possible early dismissal each day to provide custodians time to clean and sanitize facilities and classrooms.
The two also voiced their disfavor with remote learning in general, with Grace noting that students did not progress after schools were shut down in March. Preece voiced his concern that remote learning could eventually lead to a loss of jobs.
“The reason I say five days … if we go four days, we’re saying that you could do virtual learning. That doesn’t need to go,” Preece said. “That, eventually, would cost teachers jobs. I’m not lying. They’ll have somebody up in Charleston teaching second grade and everybody will get on there … it’ll be one teacher teaching it, and some monitor taking care of the classroom. That doesn’t need to go.”
Baisden also voiced his concerns against virtual education, saying that career and technical education (CTE) students were not able to receive the hands-on instruction they need during the school shutdown.
Prior to the re-entry decision, a long discussion regarding the logistics of operating the county’s facilities and transportation was held. Transportation Director Joe Howard laid out adjustments for how students will be transported to and from school.
Howard said bus drivers will have to follow typical guidelines like wearing masks, and cleaning supplies and foggers have been purchased and are on hand for them to use. The county also plans to adopt a strict two students per bus seat policy — possibly more if the students come from the same family or bus stop.
Howard noted that plans may change from day to day depending on how the situation pans out.
Regarding the process of cleaning and disinfecting buildings and buses, Maintenance Director William Hensley said the county has purchased 60 cordless 30-ounce misting devices to be used on buses, and 60 corded nine-gallon devices have been purchased for custodians to use in the school buildings. For each classroom, bottle dispensers have been purchased for teacher use.
With his mask on, Hensley demonstrated one of the power misting units to board members. According to Howard, Hensley and Assistant Superintendent Branch, custodians and bus drivers will receive the proper training on how and when to use the devices.
Branch said about 24 thermometers have also been purchased for use at each location. According to Accountant Rod McCoy, Mingo County Schools has spent close to $250,000 of around $1.8 million in relief funding.
The money has largely been used toward purchasing things like cleaning solutions and devices, thermometers and masks and gloves.