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Preston superintendent answers board’s questions on back to school plans

KINGWOOD — Preston County Board of Education members had plenty of questions about the staff’s proposed back to school plan when it was presented to them this week.

Preston Superintendent Steve Wotring presented the plan Monday.

Wotring outlined a plan for a five-day school week, with an altered schedule at Preston High, single busing, face shields for teachers, no face mask requirement for students and some virtual education.

“The key to all of this is trying to do it as safely as possible for all of our kids and for all of our staff. So there’s still much work to be done, moving forward,” Wotring said.

All students will get either a laptop or iPad, depending on their grade. Work will be downloaded onto these devices at school. No internet access will be required to complete the work.

“That’s one way we’re looking at combating the lack of internet service in many of our areas,” Wotring said.

Students will be trained on new building protocols. Everyplace will be marked for social distancing. Where possible, halls will be one-way so students don’t move against each other. Teachers will be encouraged to contact parents and explain the protocols.

The board voted 5-0 to return Sept. 24-25 to the calendar as school days. Those were previously days off for the Buckwheat Festival, which has been cancelled.

But, noted Board Members Jack Keim and Bruce Huggins, some people have already made plans for September. Can we work with them?

Wotring said the educational leave policy would apply. Could students do remote learning in a case like that, asked Keim? If the teacher is logged on and the kids could see the lesson live, they could listen in.

“We’re in the midst of a world emergency. It’s not that I don’t care, but I have bigger fish to fry than a parent who says ‘I’ve already scheduled something to do on that weekend.’ You do what you need to do, but I’ve got to run a school system in a national crisis,” and kids need to be in the classroom, Wotring said.

What if a livestock event is set for festival time, Huggins asked? Assistant Superintendent Ange Varner said they have been told if so, it will be a modified version. Many kids have already sold their animals, she said.

Huggins also asked how Kingwood Elementary and Central Preston Middle’s schedules will be affected by the proposed change in Preston High’s schedule? Those two schools may have to keep double busing, the superintendent said.

Huggins asked about shuttle buses and after school sports practices. The plan calls for teachers, some of whom are coaches, to get their lunch and duty free period after students leave PHS at 1:30 p.m.

Homework stations may be set up at PHS where student athletes could work on their devices until coaches are free. That way students won’t have to go home, then return for practice.

If a new teacher with no accumulated leave has to be quarantined, “will they be taken care of financially?” Huggins asked. Wotring said changes have been made in state policy to address that.

Board Member Jeff Zigray asked if more custodians will be hired? No, said Wotring. Will they be doing deep cleaning in addition to normal duties? Yes. Can volunteers help clean, asked Board Member Pam Feathers. No, Wotring said.

Can six-foot social distancing be maintained in classrooms, Zigray asked? Not in all rooms, Wotring said. He encouraged teachers to clean their classrooms and make as much space as possible.

Can Preston County Schools handle more virtual schooling, Feathers asked. Yes, Wotring said, but additional teachers may have to be hired. He has kept back a couple levy-funded positions for that.

The only thing the plan doesn’t prepare for is a 100% virtual opening of school, Wotring said, but he considers that “highly unlikely.”