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Teachers Express Thoughts on School Re-Entry

Wheeling Middle School teacher Jenny Craig assists student Jeffrey Parsons in the classroom before students schools were closed due to coronavirus concerns.

WHEELING — Ohio County teachers — as well as those across West Virginia — are expressing concerns with a return to school in a coronavirus era.

They have asked school administrators: Will there be enough protective equipment for students and staff? Also, they wonder how they quickly teach and make young children — especially those with sensory issues — to wear required masks.

And who is going to be charged with taking the temperatures of children when they come to school as most schools don’t have full-time nurses?

Members of the West Virginia Education Association are calling for state leaders to establish uniform guidelines for school districts to follow, and not giving individual counties autonomy to set their own standards.

“Right now, counties are charged with making their own plans, and they are all over the place,” said Jenny Craig, president of the Ohio County Education Association. “They are leaving counties that have autonomy at this time, and that is dangerous. We need state leadership.”

Craig was among leaders in the West Virginia Education Association helping to organize a conference call last week with union membership interested in expressing their thoughts on a return to school.

Space on the call was maxed out, so the discussion also was streamed on Facebook. A list of concerns expressed was compiled, and Craig will present those to Ohio County Schools administration this week.

“We are very concerned, but we obviously want to get back to school as quickly as possible,” she said. “We also know cases rising, and schools not equipped to follow the guidelines from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

She summarized some of the concerns expressed:

— Class sizes often are too large to properly socially distance students in a classroom.

— School nurses, whose services would be needed, often serve multiple buildings, and they wouldn’t always be available during the day.

— Teachers and staff often travel between buildings, and there is the potential for them to spread the COVID-19 virus.

“How do we schedule these employees to get students the services they need?” Craig asked. “And what about substitutes? These teachers could spread the coronavirus from building to building. There is no clear guidance from the state.”

— Will teachers have adequate access to cleaning supplies? Craig said teachers often are responsible for buying items such as bleach wipes and hand sanitizer. “And disinfecting will need to happen more than just once a day,” she said.

— Teachers ask whether personal protective equipment such as masks will be provided to students and staff.

— Who will be responsible for doing the temperature checks of staff and students, they also want to know.

“How it works now, because of the constraints of times, is this duty often falls on the school secretary,” Craig said. “If they are around students or staff with COVID, that could be awfully dangerous.

“We need a good protocol for checking students. The best case scenario is they get checked before they get on the bus.”

School districts also need to be prepared if there is a return to distance learning, according to Craig. Teachers advocate that money received by West Virginia through the CARES Acts be used to fill the need for equal access to the internet and remote learning supplies, she said.

Checking in on students at home also will be necessary. Reports of abuse and other crimes against children are down in West Virginia, largely because “we’ve taken mandatory reporters (school employees) out of a child’s life,” she said.

Craig teaches special education students at Wheeling Middle School, and she said these classrooms are not typical sit-down classrooms. Often physical therapists and other professionals from outside the school come in to work with students.

“If there is a mask-wearing mandate, how do we take the time to teach young students — especially those with sensory issues — to wear one?” she said.

“And the special education classes are hands-on. They play with blocks, and how do we keep these sanitized when each student doesn’t have their own? We can’t keep them from putting things in their mouth. We just can’t.”

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