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BOE members consider parents’ feedback

Letters regarding Justice’s return to school plan roll in

KINGWOOD — Preston County’s board of education members are getting plenty of feedback on the governor’s proposal that students return to in-person learning.

And the governor is flunking in those comments, they say. They plan to discuss the matter at the 5 p.m. Monday meeting.

In December, Gov. Jim Justice announced that elementary and middle schools  will reopen to in-person attendance Jan. 19, regardless of the infection rates within counties. 

High schools will continue to operate in accordance with the State Department of Health and Human Resources  county alert map. 

The state’s teacher unions disagree with the return to school, saying it is dangerous given the spread of the virus statewide. They argue counties should decide their course.

Superintendent Steve Wotring was in line for his COVID vaccination Friday when he addressed the question.

 “I  don’t know if our board will change anything on Monday night or not,” Wotring said. “But right now, we’re just following the governor’s plan. 

“The governor’s ordered that, and the only way I can change it is through board action. I can’t change it,” Wotring said.

He’s recommending that Preston go with four days in-person and one day remote learning, “because our teachers do both in-person and virtual. That gives them Friday to contact their virtual students and plan accordingly.”

Board members 

 “I think I’ve probably received more letters on this than on anything else in the three years I’ve been on the board,” Board Member Jeff Zigray said Friday.

Those who comment wonder if schools should continue remotely until the vaccine is distributed. 

“People are concerned, and we’re in the red right now,” Zigray said, referring to the state color code for rate of virus spread.

Board President Jack Keim said it’s another example of the state letting the  counties decide big things, when it won’t let them govern small things.

 But,  “As often as things change, it seems to come down to us anyway,” Board Vice President Pam Feathers said. “Is that completely  a bad thing, because it’s better to take care of your own than to have someone dictate how you’re supposed to do it.”

As of Friday morning, Keim had received 56 written comments. About half were a form letter. But the fact it’s a form letter doesn’t mean it should be disregarded, he said, because someone was concerned enough to send it. 

He’s also received letters from parents, some of who favor returning to school now.

“My thing is it takes two vaccinations. I’m thinking, why would we push it if the staff and a lot of the people involved have gotten the first vaccination? Why not just wait until after they have the second vaccination?” Keim said. “Then we could go back at that time.”

But he will listen to all the speakers Monday and consider the letters before deciding, Keim said.

“To me, the board has done a very good job of handling it, of making sure things went OK, and I don’t want to see us get excited and get in a rush and lose all that we’ve built up,” Keim said.

Board Member Bruce Huggins said he has received many comments as well.

Board Member Jeanne Dreisbach said she’s received a form letter from “many, many people” expressing concerns. 

“All anybody wants is the best for the kids and our people, our staff, whether they’re service personnel, teachers, administrators,” she said. “Every school system in the world is wrestling with these same issues.”

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