Eastern Panhandle Counties Decide on School Return Plans

County school districts in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle decided in recent days their school reopening plans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Jim Justice’s urges to open schools on Jan. 19.

The Berkeley County Board of Education’s plan moves forward with the intention to remain remote for the time being, the members stressing the need to keep the students and staff safe. The plan would be in effect for the entire district, kindergarten through Grade 12.

The approval came shortly after the West Virginia State Board of Education approved its reentry plan, which nixed full-time remote learning after Jan. 19, while leaving open the option of a blended learning schedule. With limited time to read the state’s order prior to the county meeting, the board members moved forward with approving what they believed will be the right decision for the district.

It was noted the board may have to adjust its plan or fully follow the state’s plan once the staff and board give full attention to the state’s decision.

Berkeley County’s plan moves forward as remote until all staff members have had the opportunity to receive two doses of the vaccine. The district began administering the vaccine on Jan. 8 and will hold another vaccination event on Friday.

“Our intent is to take a cautious and gradual approach to resuming normal, five-day instruction. At this time, Berkeley County Schools will continue remote learning until all BCS staff have had the opportunity to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Murphy said in an alert sent to parents Wednesday night. “I do not have a hard and fast date for this but anticipate that to be late February to early March.”

Following all staff who were interested in receiving the vaccine receiving the two doses, students will return to five-day, in-person instruction once the county reaches orange or better on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources daily map. However, if vaccine distribution slows or has not been fully deployed to interested staff, the district may choose to return to five-day, in-person instruction when the county reaches gold of better on the DHHR map.

The district will also move forward with planning a hybrid schedule in case the need arises to move toward smaller numbers inside the schools, and the plan came with the consideration that the board would meet again to reevaluate decisions as needed. The board members emphasized that the decisions made then might not be appropriate for the future, circumstances frequently changing amid the pandemic.

In an emergency meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education, the board voted on a reentry plan on Thursday that the members felt best took in consideration the safety of staff and students in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board unanimously voted to continue learning remotely until March 1, when students would then return to the buildings. The previous Friday, Feb. 26, will be used as an orientation day for students moving to a new building, a chance to learn the layout. The plan allows for time for staff choosing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to have been administered at least one dose, if not both doses if the distribution works out properly.

Commenting on a meeting Wednesday evening by the West Virginia School Board Association, BOE President Kathy Skinner indicated that it still seemed the opinion was split on if students and staff should return to school or not.

Noting that state staff is now required to meet with the state board weekly to discuss which counties are following the directive and which aren’t, Jefferson County Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson felt the plan showed the intent to follow the directive while still keeping in mind the safety of all. She also indicated that the district was to be issued about $4 million in CARES Act funding soon and that the state board has the authority to take away funding if districts aren’t in compliance, among other punishments. However, she later said she didn’t believe the board would go as far as to strip funding.


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