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Brooke County Board of Education Weighs Pandemic Response

Photo by Warren Scott – The impact of the coronavirus on schools and their extracurricular activities was a recurring subject at Monday’s Brooke County school board meeting.

WELLSBURG — The impact of COVID-19 was discussed by the Brooke County Board of Education this week as members weighed action on three matters affected by it.

The board agreed that starting in November, all schools may expand in-person instruction to four days a week with the exception of Brooke Middle School, where two staff members and a student recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

Following that discovery, school officials announced on Saturday the middle school will be closed through Nov. 6, with all instruction being done remotely.

Mike Bolen, administrator of the Brooke County Health Department, said staff and students need not self-quarantine unless they have been contacted by the department. But he added parents should closely monitor their children for symptoms of the virus.

The expansion to four days followed the recommendation of Superintendent Jeffrey Crook and the board’s re-entry committee, which is headed by Stephanie Blundon, director of student services.

Blundon told the board the committee carefully considered whether to proceed with the plan for all students to report to school on Nov. 2.

Currently about half of each school’s enrollment attends on two days and the other half on two other days, with all engaging in virtual learning on the remaining three days. Parents of some students have chosen for their children to participate in online education throughout the week.

Blundon said the schools currently have enough face coverings for students through at least January while plexiglass carrols will be used to separate students when they return to fuller classrooms.

Crook noted the first two weeks when students return will actually be three-day weeks because schools will be closed on Election Day and Veterans Day. But he stressed caution will be taken as schools move forward with the four-day plan.

Crook said earlier in the year he was aware of a staff member who required three months to recover from the virus while another was better after three days.

“If we do the four days, we’re going to isolate every single situation,” he told the board.

Blundon said under state guidelines, more than two cases of COVID-19 at a school constitutes an outbreak.

In related business, the board heard from Angel Snyder, one of several parents of Brooke Middle School cheerleaders who asked the board to allow the squad to compete in a regional competition Saturday at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling.

Board members noted the seasons of other fall sports at the middle school have been ended through a region-wide cancelation ordered by leaders of their athletic conference.

But Athletic Director Sean Blumette noted the move hasn’t affected Saturday’s event or another competition that was moved from Oct. 24 to Nov. 14 following cases of COVID-19 at other schools in the region.

Board members agreed to allow the squad to compete provided its 15 members undergo rapid tests for the virus prior to competing. They added such tests will be at the cheerleaders’ families’ expense and through their own arrangement.

Board member Dr. E. Robert Marks warned the rapid tests, while capable of providing results in the required timeframe, also have been known to result in false positives.

Board President Ted Pauls was among members who expressed sympathy for the squad, saying he hopes competing will allow them some measure of normalcy in an abnormal year.

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