Board of Education Discuss Re-entry to School; Masks to be Required on Buses

By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate

                There were several items of discussion on the agenda for the Tucker County Board of Education, one of which being options pertaining to resuming school this fall.  Superintendent Alicia Lambert forwarded the documents provided to her by the West Virginia State Department of Education outlining the options given to each county.  “Basically right now, there are a couple different scenarios,” she began, saying, “The hope is that Pre-K through five students, which the state declares those students to be elementary, will attend school four days a week.”  A deep sanitation of the entire facility will be conducted on the fifth day. Students would not be permitted to inhabit congregate areas, such as the cafeteria, gymnasium, or bus room.  The students instead would report directly to their classrooms, which will cut down on morning meeting time for the teachers, and would be eating meals within their classroom.  “I kind of look for that model to look a lot like the preschool does,” she said.

                “Middle school you have an option to do a four day week, which is what I hope we are able to do,” Lambert continued, with the other option being a “blended model.”  This would have the students attend school in person two days per week and receive virtual learning the other two days.  So I’m really hoping that we are able to do the four days with middle school as well much like elementary, because I think the more in person time that we have with the students the better,” she said.  This will be determined when the state releases what allowable numbers are permissible within the building and each classroom or pod.

                Regarding the students attending the high school, it is suggested to take a “blended delivery model” approach.  With the Pre-K through eighth grade, it is easier to adjust the schedule to keep students within their class to receive their instructional time.  With the high school structure, this presents additional considerations that must be addressed.  The proposal thus far would be for students to come on one day and receive instruction for the duration of each block with the following day being spent at home doing the work assigned the day prior.  Students would return the third day to turn in their work and receive more instruction then spend the following day completing assignments at home.

                Lambert continued, “They’re telling us right now that the students will have to wear masks on the buses because there’s no way to social distance on the bus.”  The state requires one child per seat and skipping seats between students in order to not wear a mask; however, Tucker County does not have the buses needed to accommodate this stipulation.  The state is also encouraging the counties to place additional staff in bus aide positions to assist the bus drivers on their routes to enforce the masks and temperatures can be checked when necessary.    As of now, the schools do not have enough bus aides to place on every bus, which is something the board will have to consider.

                A local task force is being formed with central office staff and those willing to assist and meetings are being held with superintendents from across the state to share ideas and suggestions on how to proceed.  Nurses, principals, vice principals, and counselors will make up a large portion of this team, though anyone interested in assisting with formulating a plan to move forward is welcome to attend.

                Funds were set aside to assist with COVID-19 related costs in the amount of around $224,000, which could be used towards sanitizing agents, janitorial supplies, or other related items.  However, it has now been announced that counties who are not operating on a one to one ratio with technology, it is preferred to use the funds for technology.  “You and I all know that devices aren’t our only problem,” Lambert confirmed.  The availability of reliable internet throughout the county poses additional issues for all school students relying on virtual learning.  “So what we’re going to have to do is we’re looking at purchasing devices for students in grades three through 12,” she stated which would be in the form of chromebooks to preload content on the computer through google classroom, which doesn’t require internet access.  Obviously this doesn’t replace all of the issues with the lack of services, but it would help.  Counties were told these requirements and guidelines could change daily, but until a final number of how many people are allowed per pod, decisions can’t be made regarding middle school.

                Board member Cathy Hebb asked if the kindergarten through fifth graders will be in self contained classrooms versus departmentalizing.  “Unless they approve the teachers can rotate classes, but the students can’t,” Lambert answered.  If the students left the classroom, they would have to remain in the hall to allow for disinfecting of each classroom. Hebb then asked how this would work for the middle schoolers, with Lambert responding it is desired for the teachers to be able to rotate, but this is still uncertain.  What is known is that there will be a limit on how many individuals can be in each class at any given time.

                Recess time will need to rotate throughout the classes so each class can go outside within the same groups.  The state stated if classes are mixed, masks will need to be worn.  Lambert’s goal is to allow the students to enjoy recess as they should, without a mask, so attempts are being made to work out a feasible schedule to allow for mask free recess.

                Board member Chris Gross asked if the teachers will be performing the cleaning and disinfecting of the rooms on Fridays.  Lambert replied, “It’ll be custodians,” though teachers will be expected to wipe down throughout the day as most always do.  “It’s not an ideal situation, and we know that, but we want to work very hard to make sure that we come up with a plan that is best for Tucker County students,” which is why Lambert wants to take ample time to put thought behind the plan before putting it out to the public.  Her goal is for Pre-K through eighth grade students to be in school four days a week to maximize the educational experience.

                The Career and Technical Education courses (CTE) at the high school are being discussed on how to best schedule these classes.  Board member Jessica Wamsley brought up the point that some classes are only scheduled every other day but last all year versus four set blocks per semester.  Lambert has instructed all school principals to work on their schedules and bring ideas to their first task force meeting to begin working on options.  “This is not what I want to do as a parent, it’s not what I want for our kids  in the school system, but we are going to try very hard to make sure that we give them the best that our county has to offer with what we have available to us,” Lambert said.

                Wamsley drew attention to the fact that several of the families of these students were considered essential employees during the quarantine and shut down and remained working.  It is difficult for families in these situations to take on a home school like role and desire continuity across the board to assist with a schedule that will work for everyone.  “I Just really want to see that there’s some continuity,” Wamsley said, understanding that not everyone chooses to use the same platform to portray their lessons.  “But if they say they’re going to use something and this is the time they’re going to do it, let’s stick with it and have some consistency,” she suggested.  Lambert completely agreed and all the before mentioned has been discussed and will continue to be. Once this schedule is in place and operating, in the instance the virus would close down the schools once more, it should be set up for the students to log on virtually during the same time they would have that class in person to help keep the flow of the year running smoothly.

                Gross said he has experienced an influx of questions regarding school sports and if or how those will continue.  Lambert stated they have been informed that there will be no field trips permitted for the upcoming school year, though she was unsure about sports team travel being essentially the same concept.  “I honestly don’t know,” she admitted.  Strategies are being considered on how to move forward with athletic events.

                Athletics Director Jonathan Hicks was on the meeting and announced some programs are beginning activities this week but must remain outdoors.  The WVSSAC sent out guidelines to the schools with phases and timelines that must be adhered to.  Hicks stated a lot of coaches have already been in contact with their athletes offering them some at home assignments to prepare them for the upcoming seasons.  “At least we’re able to get the kids back with their coaches because I think students are meant to be interactive with each other, I don’t think they’re meant to stay home,” Hicks said.  Unfortunately, he expects a lot of hurdles and challenges will need to be overcome for athletics, but he is hopeful.

According to what was released by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC), June 8 through the 19 is deemed phase one, intended for conditioning, strength training, and agility.  No more than 10 individuals can be in a pod (group) with records of names kept of who is in each assigned pod.  In addition, social distancing should be practiced, masks worn when possible, no sharing of water bottles, and activity is limited to one hour per pod.  This is for conditioning purposes only and should not include sport specific activities or equipment.  Disinfectants and hand sanitizers should be made available on site, any generalized equipment used will be sanitized, and any person showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or who has been in contact with a positive case must quarantine for 14 days.  Anyone feeling sick must stay home.

                Phase two will be June 22 through July 3 and extends the time allotment to two hours per pod.   Activities can be moved inside but it is strongly encouraged that they remain outside if possible. The number of individuals per pod can be increased to 25, but the remaining guidelines are the same.

                Phase three runs July 6 through the 24 consists of the same recommendations with only 10 students per pod, but up to 50 are allowed in a designated area with records kept of those in each pod.  Each pod is extended to three hours of activity permitted and sport specific equipment is allowed with thorough disinfection after use.  It is still recommended to participate in activities outdoors when possible.  Low and moderate risk sports, such as golf and cross country, are permitted to participate.  High risk sports, such as football, competitive cheer, and wrestling, have additional restrictions they must follow.

                Football must place more emphasis on individual position group drills, no body to body contact, no handheld shields, no protective equipment such as pads or helmets, and groups must be kept to less than 25.  As with all things COVID and school related, nothing is set definitively and is changing daily.

                Also during this meeting, Angie Davis, Program Director of the Allegheny Highlands Parents as Teachers Programs, conducted a brief presentation to the board to highlight the services their organization offers and how they work well alongside the education system.  The PAT program encompasses four components, including home visits, group connections, screenings and assessments, and resource referrals.  This program was started 35 years ago and has evolved to accommodate the needs of children and their parents.  “We’re considered the second dose of PURPLE Crying/Shaking Baby prevention as well as safe sleep education,” explained Davis.  A multitude of educational services are available such as lactation, car seat safety, and postpartum depression to name a few.

                Davis provided a few photos of some of the children and staff in action with the board members showcasing some of the activities and educational components.  With the issues of COVID-19, home visits and group connections have not been taking place, but visits via virtual methods have continued.  Wamsley commended the PAT program and Davis for their dedicated work.  “I”ve seen things really remarkable and beautiful from this program,” Wamsley confirmed.

                Lambert reported on the goals she has set for the schools for the 2019-20 school year to update the members on their status.  A five year out survey was sent out to the graduates of 2015 with hopes of receiving feedback on how the graduates felt Tucker County Schools had supported them or what we were lacking in and their experience with us,” Lambert said.  A little over 50% of the graduates responded and those results were sent to the board members.

                “The other thing that we had marked as in progress that wasn’t complete was the CEFP (Comprehensive Education and Facilities Plan),” Lambert continued.  She explained this project is being led by Ted Shriver and is in phase two and on target, however due to COVID-19 the deadline has been extended from August 1 to October 31.

                Though not necessarily written in the Superintendent goals, a meeting was held with GlidePath, the windmill company, where they issued a donation to the schools in the amount of $12,500.  “So I did want to mention that and thank them for their donation to our system,” Lambert said.

                Other items on the agenda included the approval of the minutes from June 1 and the payment of bills.  Lambert went into personnel with a recommendation to appoint Christine Ward as a sixth grade teacher at Tucker Valley Elementary Middle School, effective August 19.  Hebb made a motion to accept with a second by Gross and all in agreement.

                Lambert also recommended taking the volunteer volleyball coaches position to paid positions, with the head coach salary of $900 and assistant coach at $700 effective the 2020-21 school year.  Hebb asked how these salaries compared with other sports with Lambert stating they are on par with the other sports.  Gross made the motion to accept the recommendation with a second by Board Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans.  All members unanimously agreed.

                A budget adjustment and financial statement was presented by Finance Director Tracy Teets.  She explained she included an additional adjustment for the funds Lambert referred to for COVID assistance since it was requested by the state to include them on this school year budget.  An adjustment was also included in an attempt to not repeat a finding from last year.  “We get a finding if we over spend our budget in any one functional area, so that is included in those budget adjustments,” Teets continued.  She also announced to the board that through Medicaid, the county will be receiving an additional $146,000 (approximate), which is an increase of around $60,000 from the year prior.  “Some of that is some of the decisions that we’ve made for employment and other things so that we can bill more medicaid and part of that is because we do have some additional students that require more services, so we are spending a little bit more,” she added.  Teets expects a financial impact as a result of the COVID, however she is unsure what that will look like at this time.

                A quote was received in the amount of $43,367 for fiscal year 2021 from Liberty Mutual for workers compensation.  This was the lowest cost provider with positive reviews, therefore all were in agreement to approve.

                Two bids were received to replace four classroom doors, one gym door, a front door, and a secure entry at Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School.  The low bidder was Roberts Estates, Inc. in the amount of $69,725, significantly less than the other bid of around $90,000.  Evans made the motion to approve with Hebb making a second before discussion commenced.  It was decided in a previous meeting to set aside $50,000 to address the doors posing the biggest concerns with the remaining doors being included in a grant application to be submitted this fall.  Hebb asked about the doors at Tucker County High School which she thought was included in the plan to use the $50,000 for.  Hicks, speaking as Director of Support Services, said though the doors at TCHS are in need of repair and replacing, DTEMS is more crucial at this time.  The grant this fall will include both DTEMS to complete their door replacement, as well as TCHS.  Hicks further explained that the base bid for the doors alone came in at $56,000 and the safe school entry is the additional $13,725, though feels it best to do at the same time.

                Wamsley shared her concern of the condition of the doors at TCHS, knowing at one point some of the doors didn’t even completely shut.  Hebb agreed, recollecting the money was to be used for both schools.  Lambert said it was discussed to set aside another portion of money for the high school specifically not tied to the initial $50,000 for DTEMS.  “Is that going to be done?,” asked Hebb.  Lambert responded that Hicks said the maintenance crew has been working on the doors to fix what they can until the grant is applied for.  Fortunately, these funds can be used as a match as the schools contribution towards the project even if the grant is applied for after the project is complete since it falls within the same scope.

                Hebb continued, “I understand what you’re saying, I’m just trying to think back to the list of things that the high school gave us, and short of the pan in the kitchen, I’m hard pressed to think what money went to the high school.”  Lambert responded they received an additional special education teacher, and a camera system.  Teets added her notes indicated the $50,000 was for DTEMS doors, though at the time it was unsure what the cost would be.  President Tim Turner asked for a vote, which passed five to zero

                New business presented the first reading of the Tucker County Home School Policy, which is a required update sent from the state level.  Hebb asked who gets to see the homeschool evaluations, which Lambert explained that Attendance Director Amber Kyle ensures the student has been evaluated by a West Virginia certified teacher.

                The third and final reading of the Tucker County Schools Open Enrollment Policy was then presented with Gross making a motion to accept, a second by Evans and all in agreement.

                A list of 2020-21 board of education meetings was sent out with the understanding that some dates could change.  As presented, meetings remain on the first and third Monday at 4:30 p.m. with the exception of the required Tuesday meeting in April to approve the levy.  All were in agreement to accept as presented.

Turner asked for a motion to accept the WVSSAC guidelines as previously discussed with a motion by Gross and a second by Evans.

Hebb again asked when the students would be recognized by the board for their achievements prior to the closing of school.  The goal is to wait until August when they can be recognized in person.

                The next Tucker County Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 6 at 4:30 p.m. via virtual platform.

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