Parents Speak Out On Return To School in Ohio County
WHEELING — Parents, staff and and students had their say about the return to five-day in-person education in Ohio County Schools, and most believed it is too soon for to go back to the classrooms.
Twenty people addressed the board of education during its meeting Monday night, expressing their concerns about the scheduled return to in-person schooling on Jan. 19.
Board members took no action during the meeting, but will wait until after scheduled meetings slated for Wednesday between representatives of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and the State Board of Education. Plans for the Jan. 19 return are fluid, and directives could again be changed by state officials, they said.
The board set a special meeting for 8 a.m. Friday, at which time they could announce any changes to curriculum and approve the supplemental contracts for teachers wanting to work with remote learning students at night.
“We are going to do everything we can to get our kids back in school while following the guidelines of the (State Department of Education) and the governor’s office, and while working closely with our health officials — both statewide and locally,” Superintendent Kim Miller said after the meeting.
“We have a very good system in place to meet the opportunities for our kids. If we have to make a change, we will be able to do that.”
She and Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones also announced Wheeling Park High School students wishing to learn remotely through the Edmentum system would not be held to a semester-long commitment.
If pandemic conditions improve and they would want to resume in-person learning, they would be permitted to return to WPHS classrooms as if they had transferred from another school, Jones explained.
The meeting on Monday night, which lasted nearly three hours, was streamed live via the Ohio County Schools Facebook page. There were sound issues, and at times remarks made by board members and administration were inaudible.
But the remarks of the public could be heard, and many of the thoughts expressed were similar.
Overall, those speaking praised the original plan for hybrid education set forth by Miller and Jones at the start of the school year. This established a schedule of two days of in-person education and two days of remote learning each week, with just half of the students in the classrooms each day. Wednesdays were set aside for cleaning of schools.
Those speaking largely supported continuation of the hybrid plan.
They also don’t want the school district to change the system for remote education for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Previously, remote students interacted with their own homeroom teachers at their school for lessons. Under the district’s new plan, one teacher will be assigned per grade level to work with remote students in the evenings — and this would mean a change in teacher for most remote students.
Vaccinations for older school staff started last week, but those addressing the board largely called for all staff and students to be vaccinated. In-school education also shouldn’t resume until they have received both doses of the vaccine, and this has had time to go into effect, they said.
Others speaking were concerned about extracurricular activities and sports.
WPHS wrestling coach Brian Leggett came to speak on behalf of his student-athletes, and read a letter penned by senior wrestler and football player Steven Mitchell.
“First we have the football playoffs taken from us, and now we are in jeopardy of losing my wrestling season, too,” he said. “But it is hard for me to understand when schools across the river are open and going on with their seasons.
“I can go anywhere I want to in Wheeling, but I’m not allowed to step foot in my own school. This is killing me.”
He said he was almost ready to give up on high school sports, and achieving victories and championships.
“I just want everything to go back to normal. I just want to experience my senior year,” Mitchell wrote.
Wheeling Middle School teacher Matt Heusel spoke of his daughter who has Down’s Syndrome, and how she has been successfully educated remotely from home since the beginning of the pandemic. He did not believe changing her from her regular instructor under new plans for remote learning would be in her best interest.
Wheeling Park High School band director David Alfred, a member of the faculty senate, said he and other teachers would be upset to lose remote students they work with through the day “to someone who will work with them in the evenings.”
He read off comments from teachers who stated they didn’t think it would be safe to return to schools at this time when COVID numbers are high, and “certainly not with classrooms at full capacity.”
The teachers also don’t think they should not be forced to use their own sick days if they have to quarantine if exposed to COVID at the school. This “will encourage people to come to school sick,” he said.