State BOE will consider each district for COVID-19

MORGANTOWN — The first day of school across West Virginia on Sept. 8 just might make for a patchwork-quilt of attendance.

That is, with some students in actual classroom seats and others at the kitchen table — if their attendance areas are deemed unsafe by the pandemic.

“We’ve always seen Sept. 8 as a target date for going back,” David G. Perry said.

Make that a moving target, said Perry, a state Board of Education member who recently completed a two-year term as president.

“We’re going to be looking at a lot of things,” he said.

When he says, “a lot of things,” he means one big thing: COVID-19.

And when he says, “going back,” he literally means returning to school.

 He just doesn’t know if students, or how many students, will be answering roll in their pajamas.

“We’re ready to consider this region by region, or county by county,” he said.

“We might even have to go school by school.”

Again, he said, with the prime consideration being face-to-face learning.

Or, remote learning for safety, as was the case this past spring, when the shadow of the pandemic began nibbling West Virginia’s borders.

Perry, a former middle school principal, said “safety,” is the watch-world for anyone in the  building: Students, teachers, custodians, other staffers.

Especially students, he said.

“Monongalia County is a hot spot,” he said. “So’s Kanawha, Cabell and Berkeley.”

The above quartet alone accounts for more than 3,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

As of 5 p.m., Tuesday, the DHHR reported, there were 44 deaths from coronavirus complications recorded across those four counties.

Mon Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr., meanwhile, said his district is still proceeding with an extensive re-entry plan, which includes  staggered first week, for a mix of in-school and remote learning.

“We’ve got a little bit of a cushion,” he said, “but we’re still at the mercy of the numbers.”

He  hopes COVID-19 settles down, so students, he said, can be back in the environment in which they belong.

Right now, Fred Albert said, that environment doesn’t seem all that welcoming to the people he’s been talking to over the summer.

Albert is state president of the American Federal of Teachers, a union for educators and service personnel.

And those are formal documents, he said, which must be submitted to the state Department of Education by Aug. 14 for final approval.

Pandemics, though, he said, have a way of not letting final approval have the last word.

“Even if you have the best-laid plans on Sept. 1, it could all change by Sept. 8,” he said.

Many of those constituents, he said, are skittish about going back.

It will all come down to pandemic and whatever push Gov. Jim Justice decides to make, he said.

“Every day we mark to Sept. 8 has questions,” he said.

“Are we prepared? Can we be better prepared? And no two counties are alike.”
Tell me about it, Dale Lee said.

Lee is Albert’s counterpart at the West Virginia Education Association, the state’s other union for teachers.

He appreciates the plans the state’s 55 public school districts are fronting.

“This is what we’re looking at.”

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