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Officials discuss back-to-school process

BUCKHANNON — From students scheduling restroom breaks via an app at Buckhannon-Upshur High School to trying out block scheduling at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, administrators at both schools have shared what the new school year will look like due to COVID-19 changes.

New Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal John Pollock told the Upshur County Board of Education Tuesday that a new software purchase, e-hallpass, will help administrators monitor in real time how many students are out of each classroom for not just restroom breaks but visits to the office and other errands.

“We will be able to monitor on our iPads so we will know how many students we have in the hallway at any given time,” he said. “It’s handy software we are going to monitor to make sure we don’t have persistent traffic.”

If students need to use the restroom, they will get on their iPads and select restroom break and the software will schedule them in for sometime during that block.

No students will be out in the hallway for 10 minutes during the start of the class and 10 minutes at the end of the class to make sure the hallways are empty for the transition from classes, according to Pollock.

Per a previous decision by the Upshur County Board of Education, beginning Sept. 14, students with last names A-L will attend on Monday and Thursday while students having last names M-Z will attend on Tuesday and Friday. The other three days will be virtual learning. The first week of school, to begin Aug. 8, will be a transition week with various grades, split by the alphabet, going on different days to acclimate to the changes.

As of Aug. 25, 313 students have signed up for virtual learning – 95 ninth graders, 79 sophomores, 74 juniors and 65 seniors.

In the morning, students will come in and may select a grab-and-go breakfast before proceeding to their first block to keep gatherings down in the commons and to keep the amount of students gathering in any one area to an absolute minimum, according to Pollock.

Directional arrows have been placed in the hallways and rooms like the auditorium to keep the flow of traffic one way.

“It minimizes the amount of interaction or congestion in the hallway,” he said. “If everyone is moving in the same direction, that helps.”

Pollock said administrators believe the commons can accommodate nearly everyone in their respective lunch periods but will use the auxiliary gymnasium for overflow.

“We have decided for safety that we can fit three students per 10-person table,” he said.

That will allow a distance of six feet between students since they will not be wearing their masks while eating, according to Pollock.

There will be approximately 14 to 20 students per classroom depending on the area and the amount of social distancing restrictions.

Buckhannon-Upshur High School will hold freshmen open house on Sept. 1, 2 and 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. with students receiving a phone call with their assigned time.

Board president Dr. Tammy Samples asked about students who refuse to wear masks.

Pollock said, “Our approach is going to be one of education. We are going to work with our families. That is the job we are here to do.”

Administrators will explain the mask mandate from the governor and that they are trying to keep everyone safe.

“We are trying to get back to normal and the more that we wear these, the quicker we can do that,” he said. “We want to make sure we are teaching with kindness and with education on why we are doing this.”

Pollock said that if someone doesn’t want to wear a mask, he has had luck with getting them to wear a face shield.

All high traffic areas will be thoroughly cleaned throughout the day.

“We will have our custodians out in full force,” he said. “We will also employ the use of our teachers and some student helpers in each classroom between block periods.”

Each classroom and other high traffic areas will have a sanitizer and a solution for surface cleaning.

Custodians will sanitize restrooms after each class change.

Michael Lynch, in his second year as principal at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, said the school is looking at block scheduling in the beginning of the year as a trial period.

The block scheduling will start the second week of school on Sept. 14. There will be four periods each day, about 75 minutes per block.

“That will reduce the number of transitions and also hopefully allow not too much more diluting of our curriculum, because our students are only there two days a week,” he said.

Like B-UHS, the B-UMS will use a Blue and White day schedule. The Blue schedule students will have their first four blocks on Monday and their second four blocks on Thursday. The White schedule students will have their first four blocks on Tuesday and their second four blocks on Friday.

“This might be a good test to see just how well it is going to work,” he said.

There will be a hot breakfast in morning when students arrive. Breakfast after first will be held after advisory so students can get a grab-and-go breakfast.

The middle school has 263 students signed up for virtual school – 82 in sixth grade, 92 in seventh grade and 89 in eighth grade.

The goal for classes was to have about 25 students per class which B-UMS has accomplished.

With the dividing of the alphabet that means an average of 12 to 13 students will be physically in the class each day, according to Lynch. Electives will have a little more.

The first week of school will be orientation with iPads, social distancing, wearing of face coverings and sanitizing.

“We are going to just constantly remind and emphasize those things because it will be a part of the culture,” he said.

Masks are not required in the classrooms unless the students can’t properly social distance, but Lynch said he has had a couple teachers say they want to students to wear masks in their classes.

There will be an open house for sixth graders and new students on Sept. 3 – at 1 p.m. for students with last names A-L and 2:30 p.m. for students with last names M-Z. Students only are allowed and masks are required.

“Our emphasis is on welcoming students back,” Lynch said of the beginning of the school year. “During our week of orientation, we want to do as much as we can to not only welcome our students back but to also try to identify those things in terms of needs assessment. A lot of it has to do with the emotional well-being of our students. It’s particularly hard for middle school students I think.

Dr. Justin Bowers, community in schools facilitator, will be working to identify what the needs are of students.

“We are feeding, embracing and trying to teach,” he said.

Cleaning will be a continual effort hourly and daily to frequently clean the commonly touched use areas like door knows and light switches with more cleaning done in between classes, in between shifts in the cafeteria, restrooms, etc., according to Lynch.

Every classroom has been given a wall hand sanitizer unit.

“When we have our students in school, part of orientation will be hand washing and proper sanitizing along with some other things,” Lynch said. “Social distancing will be observed where there is a common area such as a cafeteria.”

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