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Public Asks Questions on Ohio County Schools Re-Entry

WHEELING — It likely will be mid-August before students in Ohio County Schools know what two days of the week they will be at school to start the academic year.

Then once the term begins Sept. 8, they soon could find themselves back at school for a normal five day week — or doing all their schooling at home.

It is even possible students at one elementary school could be doing all learning in their classroom, while at the same time students at another elementary school are relegated to computers at their dining room tables.

It all depends on the number of coronavirus cases being tracked at a particular school, according to Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones.

Ohio County Schools hosted a community town hall via Facebook Sunday to discuss the district’s re-entry to education this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues both locally and nationwide.

As many as 340 people viewed the virtual meeting, and a popular question posed by parents was what day their student must report to school under the split schedule. That is still being determined, and the decision likely won’t be made until about three weeks before the start of school, Jones said.

Jones and Superintendent Kim Miller will propose to the Ohio County Board of Education tonight their plan to begin the school year under a “Level 2” directive. This would have half the students in a class going to school two days of the week, and the remainder of their classmates on the other two days. Wednesdays would be used as cleaning time under the plan.

Jones said it is likely the groups of students would be split alphabetically. Once the board approves their plan, he and Miller intend to sit down and finalize whether the first group of students will come on Mondays and Tuesdays, or Mondays and Thursdays.

At present, he said they are leaning to not having the same group of students come on successive days.

Parents asked why the school district isn’t starting the year on a normal five-day plan as there are few children being treated for coronavirus cases.

He said the main reason why there haven’t been many reported cases among children is they haven’t been at school and in a congested space with others. That could change if they returned to a classroom.

“We think if we started out at five days a week, we wouldn’t be there very long,” Jones said.

The hybrid plan consisting of both in-school and remote learning would allow students and school staff to become comfortable with both learning forms, he said.

Jones said officials believe if local coronavirus levels drop, the schools could resume a five-day schedule that could be modified if there are cases at a specific school.

“If there is an issue at Bethlehem (Elementary School), we could go remote at Bethlehem for 10 days and keep all the other elementary schools going,”Jones said. “If there is an issue on the seventh grade floor at Triadelphia, we can close the seventh grade floor and keep the eighth and sixth grade floors open.”

But a major issue facing the school district could be staffing, according to Jones. Some teachers and support staff — many with existing health issues — don’t wish to expose themselves to coronavirus dangers returning to school.

“We run short on substitutes even during normal times,” he said. “It will be more challenging during this situation.”

Parents asked questions about how education in specialized areas such as career tech and advanced placement classes can continue under a two-day a week plan.

Jones suggested there may be few enough students in these classrooms where they can be socially distanced, and a decision could be made later to allow these classes four days a week under the “Level 2” plan.

He told parents it also could be safer for them to drive their children to school this year, avoiding crowded school buses.

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