CINDERELLA — During its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Mingo County Board of Education voted to retain its four-day-per-week in-person instruction model, which has students attending school for four days with Fridays reserved for remote instruction.
The decision happened the same day that pre-K through eighth-grade students in Mingo County finally transitioned back into in-person instruction under the new directives adopted by both Gov. Jim Justice and the West Virginia Department of Education. Up until Tuesday, Jan. 19, students in Mingo County had only attended school in person for 12 days during the 2020-21 school year, as the county never could seem to get out of the red on the WVDE’s previous map-based guidelines.
Under the new guidelines, which follow the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resource’s daily county alert system map instead, students in grades pre-K through eight attend in-person instruction regardless of what color they are on that map. High schools transition to remote learning if they are red on the map, which Mingo County was on that day.
During the meeting, which was attended by a small number of students and staff from Tug Valley High School, board members debated which model students in the county should attend in-person: a regular five-day week, the “A-B” blended model or the four-day week that was previously adopted by the board on July 9, 2020.
Board members Tom Slone, Machelle McCormick and board president James Ed Baisden all voiced their support for retaining the four-day model already in place. Board member Sabrina Grace proposed adopting the “A-B” model for two weeks, and then transitioning to the four-day model.
The “A-B” blended model would see students with last names in the first half of the alphabet attend school in person for two days out of the week while the other half attend two other days. The remaining day would be designated for remote learning for all students in the county.
That model is the one currently in use in neighboring Logan County, adopted by members of its Board of Education in July 2020 and reaffirmed during a special meeting on Jan. 14. Under Logan County’s plan, students with last names A-K attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday and students with last names L-Z attend Thursday and Friday, while Wednesday is remote for all students.
Grace noted that she is no fan of the “A-B” model, saying that it lacks consistency for students. However, she proposed attending school under that model for two weeks as a compromise to quell some concerns of employees, as well as giving a little more time for more vaccinations to take place.
“I suggested that as a compromise to what I feel the board wants and what I feel they want and I don’t know,” Grace said. “There is no answer that we come up with that everybody’s going to be happy. We just have to do what we feel is best. I don’t want anybody to think I didn’t listen to concerns or I don’t hear their concerns.”
Board member John Preece, calling in by telephone, voiced his support for students to return to school on a regular five-day schedule, and proposed that the MCBOE should subsequently meet in special session on a weekly basis to assess how well it is working.
“Every parent that I talk to wants five days a week. Every kid that I talk to wants five days a week,” Preece said. “Why can’t we do five days a week and monitor each week or two and see if it’s going to work? If it works, we’re fine. If it doesn’t work, then we can make some type of adjustment if we can. We’re penalizing kids by not going back five days a week, and that’s just hard to swallow.”
Superintendent Don Spence also expressed his support for the four-day model. Spence said the model gives teachers and other staff a day to plan instruction for the county’s virtual students.
Mingo County Schools does not participate in the WV Virtual program, meaning all virtual students in the county are taught by teachers who are in the county rather than from the state level.
“From a superintendent’s standpoint, I really believe that we need to go four days a week,” Spence said. “I believe we need to be back in school. The one day that’s been talked about here, that one day gives our cooks a chance to prepare meals that they have to for our virtual students. It also allows our teachers that time to plan and post things on their LMS (learning management system) and to do the actions that they need to do for the virtual school, so from a superintendent’s standpoint, I recommend the 4-1, and also from a parent’s standpoint, I recommend the 4-1.
“I also have a student who is a senior that’s missing out on so many things and I look at her and I think to myself, ‘She has the support structure and the things that she needs,’ ” Spence added. “I worry about the other students that don’t have that, and to be honest with you, it affects every student in some way, form or fashion, and we try to have our eyes on those kids — how much things are happening at home or what have you that we can’t help in the school system? My recommendation is a strong 4-1.”
Grace motioned to transition into the “A-B” model for two weeks and return to the four-day model afterward. Preece motioned to return to a five-day schedule.
McCormick, Slone and Baisden motioned to keep the four-day model already in place. After they were outvoted, Grace and Preece jumped on board and also motioned to keep the four-day plan.
“I’ll vote for it, because I feel like if I’m here, I have to vote,” Grace said. “I can’t not vote.”
“Reluctantly, I will agree with the majority of the board,” Preece said.