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Mon readies for the (remote) first day of school

County remains red; Undergrads learn online until Sept. 25

Keyboard-clicks from the Chromebook, as your kid answers roll, remotely, for homeroom.

Echoing footsteps from a principal, patrolling an empty hallway.

More keyboard-clicks, plus the soft shuffle of printed-out lesson plans, shuffled by teachers in their classrooms, left just as vacant by the pandemic.

Today is the first day of school in Monongalia County, and that’s what the morning will sound like.

The county remained the only one in West Virginia this weekend to show red on the map the Department of Health and Human Resources uses to chart the reach of the coronavirus across Mountain State confines.

Mon is hardly alone, however.

Eight other counties, in fact, came out of the weekend with a designation of orange, the second-worst hue from red.

Those colors mean you don’t go to school in person and your football team doesn’t play – at least until 9 p.m., that following Saturday, when the DHHR again updates the map.

“Reach,” is the word in West Virginia, which continues to suffer outbreaks in nursing facilities and rural churches.

The superintendent of Mingo County Schools, plus the principal of that county’s Mingo Central High School, both announced last week they tested positive for the coronavirus and were self-quarantining.

That same word, “reach,” also has especially long tendrils in Monongalia County, the home to WVU.

Gov. Jim Justice last week ordered bars in Morgantown and Mon County again closed, just two days following their reopening.

That came after photographs circulated on social media of young people, presumably students at the university, and hardly any wearing masks or practicing social distancing, waiting to get into a downtown establishment.

And the week before that, the faculty of Morgantown High School digitally delivered a letter expressing no confidence in the district’s plan to return to school with a mix of face-to-face instruction in their actual classrooms, followed by other remote learning from home.

Mon Schools’ original plan called for total remote learning for the first nine weeks of the term, with the allowance for football games and other extracurricular activities, so long as health professionals deemed such participation safe.

The governor, however, said no. You go remote, you don’t play football, he said.

Wrong play call?

It’s not about the sports, Mon Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr., said Monday. It’s about the 70% of Mon families who said over the summer in a survey that they want their kids in school this fall.

It’s about the experience of school, he said, as clouded with the coronavirus as it may be right now.

“We didn’t want to take that away from our kids,” the superintendent said.

“And the total remote-learning for nine weeks was proposed so parents could plan for childcare and teachers could plan. This was about stability.”

Which, is a word that doesn’t get much play in the county right now.

Owing to its numbers of positive COVID cases, plus the debate that those cases are skewing the data for the of Morgantown and Mon County, WVU announced Monday it was shifting to remote learning through Sept. 25 for most of its undergraduate courses.

In a letter to the WVU community, President Gordon Gee said Saturday’s home football opener with Eastern Kentucky. Kickoff will be at noon at Milan Puskar Stadium – with no fans, or signature tailgate parties, present.

Gee shared he shared the frustration of the fan base.

“While some may argue that community spread was inevitable with students returning to Morgantown, I do not believe that to be true,” the president wrote.

“If the safety protocols had been followed and large gatherings had not been held by students with reckless disregard of their fellow students and community members, we may not be in this situation.”

Free COVID testing this weekend

Mon County Commissioner Tom Bloom, though, said Monday he’d like the data to have the definitive last word.

Bloom said the commission is working with other entities to set up free testing for the coronavirus Sunday at Mylan Park, with the time and other particulars still being planned.

Using incubation rates of COVID-19, Bloom said the testing will give a good measure of community spread – especially coming off the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“This way we’ll be able to make better recommendations,” he said.

‘Everybody knew what was going to happen’

Campbell, meanwhile, said he feels students in Mon Schools could safety go back “right now.”

Either way, he said, the district is “100% ready” to effectively deliver remote instruction – for this week, and for as long it takes to the country regain a showing in yellow or green.

Morgantown High parent Julie Cryser, though, has a no-confidence vote of her own to the above.

Chryser’s two children are attending MHS and want to take advanced placement courses.

She had originally enrolled them in the distance-learning component offered by the district, but she said her questions about course offerings and how credits will mesh between Mon Schools and the West Virginia Virtual portal have been met with vague answers – or no answers at all.

“They’ve had since March to work on this,” Cryser said.

“Everybody knew what was going to happen. Everybody knew that WVU students were going to come back and the numbers were going to explode. In management, you plan for the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario. They didn’t plan for the worst-case.”

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