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WPHS To Resume In-Person Classes

WHEELING — Wheeling Park High School will reopen for in-person classes today, Ohio County Schools officials announced Wednesday.

WPHS students have been learning remotely since Oct. 19, when the facility was closed after a number of students and staff tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

“We looked at active cases and feel at this point — even though the community (spread) seems to be growing — we have nothing additional at Wheeling Park High School. We made the decision to go back to in-person learning.”

Jones said it was important to get students back in the classroom Thursday and Friday, and again on Monday. Students are off Tuesday for Election Day and off Wednesday for a school cleaning day, and Jones said they didn’t want students away from the classrooms that long.

Also on Wednesday, members of the Ohio County Board of Education met in a work session to discuss the topics of school starting times, redistricting of schools and grading policy at WPHS.

The school district soon will offer a survey to determine the community’s thoughts on changing school start times so that the high school, middle schools and elementary schools all start the day between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

The current start time at WPHS is 7:25 a.m., and the board is considering changing the beginning of the school day there to 8:30 a.m. Other schools within Ohio County Schools already start the day sometime between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. or close to that time, and only minor modifications to their schedules would be necessary.

Board members considered the pros and cons of an earlier start to the day at WPHS.

Board member Molly Adeholt cited research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has determined insufficient sleep among adolescents to be a health issue that affects their ability to learn well.

“And one reason students don’t get enough sleep is because of early start times,” she said, noting the CDC also links obesity and drug and alcohol dependency among adolescents to a lack of sleep.

The CDC recommends that middle school and high school students start classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

“I’ve been around teenagers for 35 years,” board member Peter Chacalos said. “My fear is that If they start an hour later, they will stay up an hour later. I don’t see them getting any more rest. Give them an inch, they will take a mile.”

David Crumm, director of maintenance for Ohio County Schools, said new software that organizes and develops bus routes would have to be purchased by the school district to coordinate busing. His research also indicates that when school systems have changed start times, they have had to purchase additional buses to handle the load of taking all students to school at one time.

Buses costs about $100,000 each, and there are 42 bus routes in Ohio County, according to Crumm.

There are also concerns about putting elementary school children on the same buses with high school students.

Others suggested a later start time and extending the school day later could affect extracurricular activities and students who have after-school jobs. Plans for athletic practices would have to be adjusted.

School officials expressed some concerns that it could take much time and money to develop a plan to start school at WPHS an hour later, and said ultimately it wouldn’t be feasible.

“What if we find out we have to buy 30 buses and hire that many additional drivers?” board President David Croft asked. “If we can’t do it, it’s just a waste of everybody’s time.”

The discussion on redistricting centered around reducing class sizes, primarily at Triadelphia Middle School and Woodsdale Elementary School.

Raquel McLeod, director of student services, said schools with larger class sizes have been able to reduce these in recent years by limiting the number of special permissions they grant. These special permissions allow students from outside the school’s attendance area to enroll in the school.

Five years ago, Triadelphia Middle School had 467 students, and now it has closer to its goal of 400 students after limiting the number of special permissions.

Central office employees told board members they were waiting for them to take action to redistrict schools so they could begin to prepare families for the change.

“The board is looking for recommendations from you,” Croft told them. “You should bring back the top five things we can do to decrease class size in descending order.”

Jones expressed concerns that some families may opt to leave the district if told they have to send their child to a different school. This would mean financial loss in terms of state funding to the school district.

“Sometimes they would rather go to a parochial or private school,” he said. “If out of 100 students we lose 20 of them, it wouldn’t be worth it.”

Lastly, board members discussed the “Audit Your ‘A'” program, which allows students to take some classes as a pass or fail class without affecting their grade point average. The West Virginia Board of Education is no longer permitting the program, though WPHS received a waiver this year to allow the grade audit. A permanent solution is needed.

WPHS Prinicipal Meredith Dailer said department chairs at the school are presently meeting to assess the issue and “are digging into the data.” They hope to have a plan to present to the public by the end of the year.

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