Education, Latest News

Back in session: Schools open today

70% of students in classes as part of blended learning

After seven months of echoing footfalls in empty hallways, Sheri Petitte is ready for her school to start being noisy again.

That will happen at 8:30 a.m. today when the buses roll up to Ridgedale Elementary, to send students forth for their  first day of face-to-face instruction in their actual classrooms since March.

Petitte is principal of the school on Goshen Road that houses students in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade.

While Ridgedale’s hallways were empty Wednesday, the school, she said, was still overrun with anticipation.

That came from teachers and staffers anxious for the students’ return, the principal said.

Her, too.

“Everybody’s pretty much on cloud nine around here,” she said. “We missed our kids.” 

Some 70% of Monongalia County’s nearly 12,000 public school students will take to their classrooms this morning in the district’s blended-learning model, which includes a mix in-person learning and remote instruction.

Ridgedale will run the full measure of safety protocols, Petitte said, including face masks and socially distanced classrooms.

Safety, though, continues to be on the minds of Fred Albert and Dale Lee, who head the state’s two unions for teachers across West Virginia’s 55 public school districts.

Albert is president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lee heads the West Virginia Education Association.

In recent days, both unions have questioned Gov. Jim Justice and other officials for changes made to the color-coded metrics of the two maps the state uses to track the coronavirus here.

One map is used by the state Department of Health and Human Resources, while the other is deployed by the state Department of Education.

Both maps, Albert and Lee have said, are being manipulated to the point of danger — for students, teachers, bus drivers, custodians and everyone else associated with a school building and school district within the state.

Many were surprised locally, including Monongalia Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr., when Mon made a leap to green on both maps last week.

Albert spoke of such pivots in a statement issued by his union  Thursday.

“The rapid descent from red or orange to green in a matter of a day or two for several counties leaves us scratching our heads,” the president said.

“Adding a color or moving the target doesn’t make our schools or communities safer. We go one step forward; Gov. Justice tweaks the map and drags us two steps back.” 

The day before, the WVEA announced it was filing an injunction in Kanawha County, challenging those recent tweaks to the maps and their metrics.

One cannot contradict COVID-19, he said, by simply stirring in a new color to the metric.

“The focus has clearly been on getting teams back on the playing field and getting students in school,” he said.

“Citizens and educators have lost confidence and trust that the changes made to the map are in the interest of safety and public health.” 

In the midst of all of the above, though, there’s today in Mon.

Call it, the second “first” day, Petitte said.

Students have been learning remotely since Sept. 8, the statewide start of school, when Mon was teetering between orange and red on the maps.

“Our teachers are doing a phenomenal job,” she said.

“Now we’re going to continue the mission with our kids in front of us.” 

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