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Looking back gives an idea what is ahead for schools in new year

The same three points, the same as last time.

When Gov. Jim Justice ordered schools shuttered across West Virginia last March due to the then looming pandemic, the state Department of Education mobilized for some homework in a hurry.

A remote learning plan and mobile nutrition program were quickly established with a three-fold mission.

That was so children from  households who relied on breakfast and lunch at school wouldn’t go hungry.

The motivation, too, was that no child would lose a connection, however tenuous, with a caring adult, be it a teacher or counselor.

Keeping a child intellectually engaged, no matter the format, was the third goal.

If all that sounds really familiar by now, get ready to hear it again for 2021, State Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said last week.

Those three goals will carry into the new year as the state still grapples with the chaos and uncertainty of COVID-19, the superintendent said in a video overview of 2020.

Look for the education department and its teachers and administrators to continue to make tweaks to the mission, Burch said, including in remote instruction, which still proves to be a challenge.

With 35 of West Virginia’s 55 counties showing red on the day before Christmas last week, remote learning will likely continue to be part of the academic proceedings.

Burch talked about numbers just as daunting during his video overview.

There were 267,000students enrolled in 900 schools across the state last spring at the time of the governor’s announcement, he said.

Within 48 hours of that call, though, he said, the state Department of Education launched a COVID-19 website, and meals began going out — a total of 8 million in the summer alone.

To date, Burch said, a total of 27 million meals have been served up to youngsters doing their learning from home.

“Work that would typically take months was done in days,” he said.

The year 2021 will likely be different, the superintendent said, given the rollout of the vaccine.

That doesn’t mean, though, that people shouldn’t remain vigilant, he said.

Wearing a mask and social distancing are more important than ever, Burch said, as people are rolling up their sleeves and queuing up for the shot.

And, he said, while students are readying for school next month.

 Numbers of them will be in actual buildings and classrooms, given the state’s hybrid-learning model.

“It’s we as adults that impact how our children come back to school,” Burch said.

“This pandemic cannot put our children’s futures on hold.” 

In Monongalia County, administrators, educators and school board members are currently assessing what has been working and what hasn’t been working, here.

A lot of it comes down to pandemic management, BOE members said Dec. 22 during the final meeting of 2020.

Mon is one of the 35 counties showing red on the map.

While cases in county schools are quite low, the community spread isn’t.

 Contact tracing and resulting quarantines put the district on remote learning through Jan. 20, as there weren’t enough substitutes in the system to fill the temporary vacancies.

“We can’t realistically get kids in schools unless we can staff it and unless we can get the community transmission under control,” board member Sara Anderson said then.

Burch, meanwhile, closed his report with what may have been the ultimate pandemic understatement.

“I don’t have to tell you,” he said, “what a year it’s been.” 

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