Tucker County Offers Preliminary School Re-entry and Schooling Options

By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate           

            Tucker County Board of Education President Tim Turner called the meeting to order through the virtual platform for their meeting.  All members were present along with numerous teachers, parents, and concerned citizens with anticipation of the re-entry plan announcement.  This piece of information has been highly anticipated as the summer is drawing to a close and staff, students, and parents alike are unsure how the 2020-2021 school year will proceed.

            Superintendent Alicia Lambert had the protocol proposal in hand which was categorized into multiple sections.  “This guidance is fluid and it will change as information about COVID becomes available, it will change depending on what the Governor decides to do, so just because this is what we put out today doesn’t mean that this is how it will stay,” began Lambert.  Two surveys were put out to the public with options pertaining to the return to school this fall.  The most recent survey yielded 354 responses with the following results:  56% stated students should not be required to wear a mask, 64% agreed students should wear masks on buses, 44% prefer students attend five days a week, 25% suggested a blended model with two days in person and the remaining days virtual learning, 20% prefer four days in person and one day virtual, and 11% suggested full remote delivery.  Lambert explained that full remote delivery, such as what was executed when school closed this spring, can only be implemented if Governor Justice orders.  “We don’t have the authority to do that, that has to be issued by the Governor,” she said.

            Survey results, along with assistance from James Snyder with the Tucker County Health Department, assisted in the compilation of the re-entry plan, which is subject to change.  Unless changed by Governor Justice, schools will open on September 8 but with a staggered entry.  Students in grades twelve, eight, and four will attend school on the first day to become aware of the new protocol, regulations, be administered a Chromebook, and instructed on how to use Google Classroom.  Grades eleven, seven, and three will go on September 9, grades ten, six, and two on September 10, and grades nine, five, and one September 11.  Preschool and Kindergarten will attend all four days in groups of five with their parents as scheduled with their teachers.  After the reentry week, students will begin attending on a typical, five days per week schedule.  “We felt like we should get our five days in while we can get our five days in because we don’t know how long we’re going to be able to be in school and we want as much face to face time with students as possible,” she added.

            If COVID cases rise in the county, TCBOE would work with Snyder to move into Phase Two, which would be four days in person and one day of virtual learning.  If cases continue to increase, Snyder could suggest moving into Phase Three, a blended model, with two days in person and three days of virtual learning.  Phase Four would be full remote delivery, which again, can only be implemented by Governor Justice if the county or state is put on a stay at home order.  Each school is working to compile a plan to ease in the transition into any of these phases if needed.  “We want to make sure that we are prepared for every single scenario this year and what that may look like,” Lambert assured.

            Board member Chris Gross spoke up stating, “I’ve got a lot of issues with that.”  He continued, “Everything we base on is more fear and not factual or models that don’t work.”  He referenced some models and previously aforementioned foreshadows made in other countries that expected significant deaths if certain guidelines weren’t followed which fell short.  Although he admitted he would hate to be one of these parents, there have only been 30 child deaths related to COVID with an annual average of 600 children deaths from influenza.

            Gross also expressed concern over masks depleting oxygen by approximately 27% and that the N95 masks are supposedly the only ones that aid in the prevention of the spread of disease.  “The probability of a child dying from this is almost zero,” he continued.  Another issue he had within the proposal is that data shows 84% of children ages zero to 19 who get COVID are asymptomatic.  “If we start getting some more cases and leave it up to the county about shutting down or scaling back is problematic,” Gross stated.  “We’re shutting down people’s lives, we’re shutting down businesses due to a lot of fear and not factual elements,” he added.

            Board member Cathy Hebb asked about grading and the transitioning between classes.  Lambert first confirmed that, unlike when the schools closed in March, all grades will count and students will be held accountable for their work.  “We need to make sure what we’re offering is quality and that the students’ work that they’re submitting is also quality,” responded Lambert.  Hebb recommended verbiage be added into the protocol stating such.  Pertaining to the transferring classes, this will be decided upon within the school if the students will have one teacher for all classes or if the teachers will be rotating between the classrooms.

            Social distancing will be practiced and measurements have been taken to allow a minimum of one meter (3.2 feet) between students and in cases this cannot be practiced, barriers are being considered.  Desks will be situated in rows and not in groups, and masks will be required in the hallways, on buses, arriving or departing school, and congregate areas.  Masks are not required within a students pod, but anytime pods intermingle they will be required.  Teachers will wear masks or face shields at all times when a minimum of six feet cannot be maintained.  Grades preschool through five will have their meals served to them in their classrooms and grades six through twelve can eat in the cafeteria.  Students will have to skip seats between them and their neighbor and also alternate whereas no students are directly across from each other.  Salad bars or buffet style foods will not be offered.

            There are three different school options students can take advantage of moving forward.  Option one is the traditional, in person learning where students will be subject to daily screenings.  Attempts will also be made to schedule recesses so students can enjoy this time mask free.

Option two is West Virginia Virtual School, which each county is now required to offer.  Previously, only grades six through twelve could utilize this option, but additional grades have since been added.  These courses are not taught by the local teachers, instead the students will receive credits for using this platform and can graduate with their class.  Lambert added that this program is an extremely rigorous option.  An informative video will be compiled and published on the Tucker County Schools Facebook page.

The final option is to homeschool the student.  “What we really want to stress to all of our parents who are out there struggling with the idea of ‘Should I send my kid back?’, each person is going to have to decide what works best for their family and that answer is not going to be the same across the board,” said Lambert.  She asks that everyone remain respectful, regardless of their choice, as this is unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Specialized instruction was also included in the preliminary protocol.  This includes remote learning, which again can only be issued by the Governor, polar packets or non traditional instruction, which is no longer limited to five per year, and homebound instruction for students considered “medically fragile” and requires a doctor prescription.  “These are not options for returning to school,” explained Lambert, just the three options mentioned prior.

Facilities Director Jonathan Hicks explained how transportation would work in the upcoming year, stating students would have assigned seats with only two per seat, three if necessary, masks will be worn, students can only ride their assigned bus, hand sanitizer will be available, drivers will sanitize between each run, and windows will be down when weather permits.  Parents are encouraged to transport their child when possible.  Board Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans asked if more drivers will be permitted at Tucker County High School, with TCHS Principal David Koritko stating his goal is to limit who can ride with who so he always knows which students are in which vehicle with proper permission.

Each school will have their own plan, but some things will be the same.    There will be entry and exit doors, students will go directly to their assigned classrooms upon arrival, and lanes and directions will be marked in the hallways.  Daytime custodians will work diligently to sanitize restrooms  and commonly touched surfaces while nighttime will sanitize other surfaces, mop, and other duties as assigned.  Restroom breaks will be scheduled to avoid multiple pods cross contamination, water fountains will be turned off and personal water bottles encouraged.  There will be bottle filling stations available for refills.  There will not be vending machines available and fingers will not be scanned and meals will remain free.

Constant reminders will be sent out educating families on when it is safe to send your child to school and when they should reconsider.  TCHS has equipped a “ready room” in case a student begins to show symptoms where they can be isolated until their parent arrives to remove them from school.

Visitors will be limited to the office with a mask on and after a temperature check until their child is brought to them if they need to be picked up early.  Volunteers are not permitted at this time and contract workers must check in, wear a mask, and be screened prior to entry.  When possible, individualized education plans (IEP) will be conducted via virtual platforms.

“Attendance is not going to work as it has in the past because we are going to be telling parents to keep their children home if they are sick,” stated Lambert, as they are awaiting further guidance from the West Virginia Department of Education.

Kim Lipscomb, Special Education Director, began, “One thing to keep in mind is that special ed is not addressed in this plan because this plan hits everybody.”  It was not addressed because special education is designed to be individualized and each case will be handled accordingly.  Once parents of students with an IEP or 504 plan are met with, a plan for their student will be put in place as well as the inclusion of a distant learning plan in the occurrence the schools are shut down once again.  After a discussion between Lipscomb and Snyder, it was decided that the students that sometimes frequent other schools, for example the gifted program, will no longer be doing so, but their teacher will set a schedule to come to them.

Gross expressed he, along with other parents, felt that when the shutdown occurred, students with IEP were found at a disadvantage.  He asked how these students will be measured for proficiency to ensure they are caught back up and can continue their education.  Lipscomb agreed and has stressed to the principals that within the first days of schools administering a benchmark to these students to determine their level.

Snyder reiterated that this was a time consuming and daunting task that was not taken lightly and is subject to change as COVID changes.  The plan was made with the best interest and safety in mind for all students, teachers, and staff as well as their families.  He stated that the decision to move to additional phases won’t come solely from him, but rather with input from the schools, the state, and others involved in the fight against the pandemic.  “We’re going to do everything we can to try to keep the schools open as long as we can be safe,” Snyder said.  As of the meeting, Tucker County has zero active cases though no one knows what to expect.

Hicks came on again to speak about the sports which are following WVSSAC guidelines, though they change weekly.  Meetings are scheduled soon to discuss sports in specific, therefore a lot of information is being withheld until that time.  Seasons have been delayed two weeks, time is being limited in the locker rooms, and water coolers are not being used.  Virginia and Washington D.C. has canceled their fall sports but the goal is to offer the athletes their seasons.

Superintendent Lambert asked for the board to approve the preliminary plan as presented with the understanding it could change.  Evans made a motion to accept with a second from Hebb.  When Turner asked for a vote, he, Hebb, Wamsley, and Evans voted for the plan with Gross voting against, passing with a four to one vote.  The plan will be posted for public review on the Tucker County Schools Facebook page.

There were no delegations, public comments, recognitions, reports, informational items, or attendance exemptions on this agenda, moving the meeting into discussional items.  A county board virtual training was discussed and the board voted on their preferred method of delivery.

            The consent agenda items consisted of the minutes from the June 15 meeting along with the payment of bills.  There were no student transfer requests bringing the meeting into personnel.  Evans made a motion to accept the consent agenda items as presented with a second by Hebb.

            Within professional retirement and resignation, Superintendent Alicia Lambert recommends accepting the resignation of Louise Skonier, special education teacher at Tucker Valley Elementary Middle School, effective July 14, 2020.  Hebb made a motion to approve the resignation with a second by Wamsley.

            Within extracurricular resignations and retirement, Lambert recommends approving the resignation of Thomas Starr, boys basketball coach at TVEMS, effective July 21, 2020.  A motion was made to accept the recommendation by Evans and a second by Hebb.

            Moving into professional employment, Lambert recommends the hiring of Elizabeth Liptrap as fifth grade teacher at TVEMS, effective August 19, 2020 pending background check and certification, along with Gina Carroll, special education teacher at Tucker County High School effective August 19, 2020, with all members in unanimous agreement.

            Under extracurricular employment, the Superintendent recommends the approval of Cole Rapp as assistant football coach at TCHS effective 2020-21 school year pending background check and certification, Kristen Pennington as assistant cheer coach at TCHS for the 2020-21 school year, and David Lambert, volunteer assistant football coach at TVEMS effective with the 2020-21 school year.  The board members voted to accept these recommendations as presented.

            Budget adjustments and financial statements were provided by Financial Director Tracy Teets.  A list of memorandums of understandings were presented to the board which included the following: an agreement between Marion County Board of Education and Tucker County Board of Education to contract with a medicaid auditor and provide medicaid eligible billing service and medicaid monitoring to qualifying students beginning July 1, 2020 and ending June 30, 2021.  The next MOU was between MCBOE and TCBOE to employ an audiologist and provide audiology services to qualifying students beginning July 1, 2020 and ending June 30, 2021.  Other agreements were with Integrated Speech Solutions for telespeech services, Best Life Therapy LLC for occupational, physical, and speech therapy services, and Candace Wright as School Psychologist.  Hebb made the motion to accept

            New business consisted of the third and final reading of the homeschool policy.  Two 2020-21 school calendars were provided for consideration with the announcement of school openings being delayed until September 8.  After brief discussion, Calendar A was chosen with staff reporting August 19 and students returning the week of September 8.  The goal is to provide teachers with ample time to prepare and adjust to the changes being made.  Students are still required to attend 180 days but schools are encouraged to dismiss as close to June 1 as possible.

              The next meeting of the TCBOE will be Monday, August 3, at 4:30 p.m.  at the board office, and masks are required.

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