‘We were clueless’ says Mon County superintendent
Monongalia County’s school district was hours away from releasing the inaugural installment of a highly detailed back-to-school plan for the first day of classes on Aug. 20.
There was only one problem: The first day of school is now Sept. 8.
Which meant another problem: Neither Campbell, nor anyone of the state’s 54 other school superintendents knew about it on Wednesday.
That is, until Gov. Jim Justice made the announcement during a regular briefing with reporters on the state’s COVID-19 response.
“We were clueless,” Campbell said.
COVID-19, though, is giving clues that it is back on the surge — in the Mountain State and the rest of the country.
That was Justice’s motivation for pushing back the start date, he said.
And that’s because pandemics can be motivated.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, West Virginia, according to numbers culled from the state Department of Health and Human Services, had picked up 110 positive coronavirus cases from the day before, bringing the total to 3,615.
And 67 of those new cases were notched here in Mon, DHHR said.
Off to school (maybe)
Thus far, 95 deaths from the virus have been chronicled in West Virginia with a lot more than that across Florida, Texas, Arizona and other hotspots — as the nation tries to reopen its collective economy after a spring of self-quarantine.
As far as school in Monongalia County, its superintendent said, that means waiting.
Until Zoom zips it all up.
Or, most of it.
Campbell said he and his 54 counterparts across West Virginia will meet remotely in coming days with state Schools Superintendent W. Clayton Burch using the popular teleconferencing software.
Mon’s idea, he said, is to ease back in during that first week of school, with a staggered schedule of in-building instruction and remote learning.
That way, he said, students can get gently reacclimated to the environment.
Mon’s school board will give the final grade on that, he said.
“I would like to think we would still have the opportunity to do that,” he said, “as long as it’s still a viable option.”
Of face masks (and a familiar face)
In the meantime, the only sure thing for the BOE right now — is institutional knowledge.
Longtime incumbent Nancy Walker, who joined the board in 1996 and won reelection during the county’s primary last month, was named BOE president by her colleagues during a special meeting Monday.
She has wielded the gavel before during her 24-year tenure.
Ron Lytle, who just completed a two-year term as president and was also reelected in May, will serve as vice president.
Such consistency in the central office is a good thing, Assistant Schools Superintendent Donna Talerico said, in an environment that is now anything but.
“There’s a lot to consider and everything is subject to change,” she said, earlier this week.
The district for now will continue its ongoing work with the new first day of school in mind, she said.
That includes the gridding out of an all-encompassing document that will be both a primer and operator’s manual on the pandemic particulars of Academic Year 2020-21, she said.
A document that takes social-distancing into account for both students and teachers who may be especially vulnerable to the coronavirus due to pre-existing health issues or age.
Face masks will be part of everyone’s fashion ensemble — “It looks like they’re going to be a way of life for us,” Talerico said, of the coverings.
So will the distance-learning technology that quickly became a learning staple in the spring when the order to shutter schools came down.
Working with the state, Mon County will continue to offer technical provisions for those parents who are still too skittish to send their kids back into a school building — while a lethal virus continues to roil upon the land.
With Justice’s announcement still ringing in the air, Campbell said he wants to provide something that he simply can’t right now: Information.
Any central office of any school system, he said, is full of people who are planners by necessity, he said.
“That’s what we are,” he said.
“We like to get out in front of things, because we have to. Right now, this is increasing the frustration level. We’ve got lots of parents out there anxious for information.”