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BOE releases back-to-school survey questioning return plans

With a tenure on the Monongalia County Board of Education approaching 25 years, Nancy Walker, it can be said, has a library of institutional knowledge housed in her brain.

And when she wants to look back on district doings gone by, she can really look back.

On Friday, the current president of the BOE had a peek past the sail.

She took a moment, on the undulating, white-capped seas of the pandemic, to recall a simpler, less turbulent time.

You know.

Last year.

As in, 2019.

“What we were doing on the board then feels like it was so long ago,” she said.

“It just seems like it was so innocent.”

But not infectious.

Then, the board was marching into the start of the school by taking up matters of textbooks, field trips and football games.

It was collectively looking forward to science and social studies fairs, Math Field Day, the county spelling bee and people shoulder-to-shoulder in the gym bleachers for the big basketball game.

Commencement will be here before we know it, she and her fellow board members said, as they pictured the happy hugs and handshakes those ceremonies entail.

These days, no one is shoulder-to-shoulder. Or they shouldn’t be, health professionals say.

Same for those happy hugs and handshakes.

The board then was simply looking forward to the happy chaos of the coming school year.

This year, Walker and the BOE will have to help usher a school year in the chaos of the coronavirus.

As in, “C” is for COVID.

It’s different, she said. Starkly different.

So different, in fact, that there’s no template — except the one build, and demolished to be re-built —  as the pandemic adds new punctuation to the dialogue.

Weekly, daily and even hourly.

Pandemic opinion 

This time, Mon County Schools is going forth in a world populated by face-mask protocols that are frequently ignored.

There are those vexing reports on outbreaks traced back to people who ignored those protocols.

And the frustration over testing lags. and the worry over whether a vaccine will make it out of the lab by Christmas.

Don’t forget the daily count from the health department — chronicling the diagnoses that aren’t quite as socially distant in West Virginia as they used to be.

A month from now in that world, Sept. 8, families in Mon and across the Mountain State will have to confront the coronavirus.

 They’ll have  to decide just how they want the school year to proceed for their children.

Walker: “I can’t tell someone what the ‘right’ answer is for their family.”

But what she can do, is a lot of heavy reading.

Which is what the BOE president and her fellow board members will be doing coming days.

After a brief, electronic hiccup the day before, the school district sent out the electronic link of a survey Friday morning to Mon families with school-age children.

The survey can also be accessed at the Mon Schools web site:

It will remain open through 11 p.m. Monday.

 The district is looking for comments on a quartet of back-to-scenarios, each of which  could answer the school bell, come Sept. 8.

There’s full-time, in-school learning, with strict protocols.

Full-time, remote learning, such as what ensued this past spring when Gov. Jim Justice ordered schools closed due to the pandemic.

Blended learning, which would consist of two days of in-school instruction and five days of remote learning for the duration of the school year.

And “WV Virtual Learning,” an online initiative offered solely through the state Department of Education.

Mission, defined 

Donna Talerico, Mon’s assistant superintendent of schools, said it’s important to note what “remote” learning is, opposed to “virtual” instruction.

The two terms, she said, can be subjective, and have been loosely used over the weeks by officials in Charleston to mean the same, when — according to the practical, pandemic definition, as applied to the state of West Virginia — are actually quite different.

In the meantime, the assistant superintendent added, the district is working on an assignment due this coming Friday at the request of the state’s top official, Gov. Jim Justice.

That’s the governor’s deadline for the re-entry plans from each of West Virginia 55 school districts he wants to see on his desk.

 Mon is submitting the three it can steer for in-school learning, the blended option and the remote option.

 The Dominion Post has already given an overview report on the in-school plan.

It will re-visit that document, while also exploring the other two, as they are finalized and submitted this week.

COVID contingencies 

“Finalized,” is a word that is also subjective, Talerico said, given the unpredictability of the pandemic.

“It’s ever-changing,” she said. “Even by the hour, things are changing.”

Talerico said board members and district officials will consider every single survey after 11 p.m. Monday.

The assistant superintendent isn’t sure, she said, if the county has the  resources to launch two platforms of instruction simultaneously — that is, if a set of parents on your street wants in-school learning, no matter what, while you opt for total remote instruction for your child.

However, she also knows that the start of this school year will be akin to veering off the four-lane and onto a dirt road, with no GPS.

Walker, the BOE president with all that history, said there’s no rearview mirror for her, either.

“We’re going to work with our families,” she said. “And we’re going to make sure our kids are safe.”

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