By Lon Anderson
As the opening of the Hardy County Schools, now set for September 8, draws closer, concern over the preparations and myriad details has also intensified. That’s especially true this year because of the coronavirus, which is impacting virtually every aspect of education this fall.
So it was not surprising the Board of Education on August 17, in its final meeting before the schools reopen, probed extensively before giving final approval to the reentry guideline plan.
Superintendent Sheena Van Meter expressed strong confidence in their reopening plan: “It’s a good plan. We have lots of good comments on our plan and I don’t feel a lot of anxiety over it.”
Under the plan, this year’s school opening will look entirely different than any previous, with some parents opting for their children to go to classes, others opting to have them stay home and attend virtual classes, and others choosing a mix of in-classroom and online (virtual) instruction.
Even teacher support for Hardy County’s plan seems to be stronger than teacher support for plans elsewhere in the state. Board Member Janet Clayton Rose referenced a survey of teachers by the teachers’ union about teachers’ attitudes concerning school openings.
According to Dale Lee, President of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), that survey of West Virginia teachers, taken in late July “found that most teachers are uncomfortable returning to school under their counties’ plans, and that 70 percent wanted a remote (virtual) start.”
“Although we made the recommendation to start remotely,” Lee said, “we will support our local members if they are comfortable with their county’s plans and the safety measures that have been put in place.” But, he cautioned, “Everything is really fluid, and you don’t know when you might have to pivot on a dime.”
Van Meter said she believes that teachers in Hardy County seem to be far more supportive of Hardy County’s plan than the teachers’ poll indicates statewide.
All but one staff member felt comfortable coming back into the classroom, she noted. “That’s the feedback I’ve gotten.”
“I watched your video on virtual school,” said Board Member Nancy Hahn. “Any feedback from our teachers?”
“Yes, good feedback,” responded the Superintendent. “The teachers want to get their hands on the (instructional virtual) platform. It’s still not been released to us yet. That should be any day. Teachers are very anxious to get them. But so far, no one has called me upset, frustrated or threatened to retire over this.”
Concerning virtual school enrollment, Van Meter told the Board “Today was the last day to sign up (for which instructional plan the child would be enrolled in). We have to move forward. Whatever program you child is in today, that’s where the student will be for the next nine months. Our last count was 714 enrolled in the virtual school.”
“This will be tough, but I think we can do it,” Board Vice President Melvin Shook said.
“They (students and teachers) really need to get back to school,” Board President Doug Hines said.
“I want to support our Hardy County teachers for wanting to bring (the students) back into the classroom,” Hahn said.
“I want to support our (school) nurses,” Van Meter said. “They’re really under pressure, and we have completely re-worked their (office) areas and how they will be working.”
“For the virtual students, do we still have to feed them?” asked Hines.
“Yes,” explained Van Meter. “We are a still a qualified county, so everybody gets free breakfasts and lunches.”
“How’s that going to work?” he pressed.
“Parents will have to come by and pick them up (for the virtual students),” she explained. There will be daily or weekly options offered parents. They could come each day and pick up hot meals or pick up a box once a week containing five breakfasts and lunches. “That’s the plan,” she continued, explaining that parents have to let them know in advance which option they want.
“What about wearing facemasks?” asked Shook. “When do students have to wear them?”
“Students can wear them anytime they want, but they have to wear them anytime they are outside their core group (classmates),” Van Meter said. “We require them in the hallways, but not in the classrooms. We will have students facing different directions in the classrooms.”
“They are also required on buses,” she added.
“What if they refuse?” Hines asked.
“We have been told we can’t discipline them, so we’ll try to accommodate them,” Van Meter responded.
“How about seating on the buses?” Shook asked.
“Masks are required on buses and only two students per seat,” Van Meter responded, “and drivers will have to be strict and make sure students sit where they are assigned. It will be the same in classrooms. Seating has to be charted and not changed.”
She also explained that buses will have wipes and sprayers and guidelines for cleaning before and after.
“Realistically, how long do you think this will work?” Hines asked.
“It will depend on what happens in our community,” Van Meter responded.
Finished its probing, the Board took a formal vote and unanimously approved the re-entry guidelines for the County school system.
Another issue raised concerning the start of school, Van Meter told the Board, involved the possible leasing of large electronic signs to remind drivers to be aware of the start of school and the impact to traffic that this will have.
The signs, suggested by the Town of Moorefield, Van Meter explained, would cost about $500 per week and she suggested they consider three, for a total cost of $1,500.
“Did they offer any financial assistance?” asked Hahn.
“No,” replied Van Meter.
“Seems kind of a stiff price,” said Hines.
“The Town of Wardensville has one,” Hahn said, suggesting that perhaps they could use it on a short-term basis.
Another suggested that the Mathias-Baker Fire Department also had one that perhaps could be utilized in that area.
Van Meter said she would follow up on those suggestions.
In other business, the Board gave final approval to the change in travel regulations, policy GBM, first addressed at their previous meeting, and gave approval to long lists of personnel transfers, hirings, promotions, resignations, and athletic coaches’ agreements. The board’s next meeting is Sept. 8.