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Teachers share reopening concerns

The Inter-Mountain photo by Brad Johnson Standing in front of the Randolph County Board of Education during this week’s BOE meeting were American Federation of Teachers of Randolph County members, including, from left, Ashley Bosserman, Connie Townsend, Ellen Fortney, Michelle Tenney and Shellie Burda. Members said they had concerns about the reopening of schools.

ELKINS — As the start of the 2020-21 school year approaches, several teachers employed by Randolph County Schools have brought their concerns to the board of education about reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frank Caputo, staff representative for the American Federation of Teachers, spoke on behalf of teachers in Randolph County during this Tuesday’s regular board meeting. Caputo asked the board and county administration how students are going to be “effectively served.”

“This is about how can we effectively serve these students,” he asked. “One thing that is quite evident is that it is going to be impossible for our people to do the in-person teaching and the distance learning. It’s just the simple equation that those students …. that (they) are going to be the ones who get shortchanged because there are only so many hours in the day. I am seeing the stress that everyone is going through, and we are here tonight in hopes, together, that we can find some sort of solution to this.”

In response to the COVID19 pandemic, RCS officials and school administrators have worked together for several months to create a plan to keep students safe during the school year.

The plan proposed by Superintendent Debbie Schmidlen was unanimously approved by the Randolph County Board of Education during an August meeting.

Within the proposal were four different scenarios for families to choose from in regard to educating their children.

Adrienne Sherrill, teacher at Elkins Middle School, followed Caputo’s comments, adding teachers are “unable” to do what they are being tasked with this year.

“The way that we feel is absolutely terrified,” she said. “I know that I can’t pull together what my students deserve. … We all feel like we are unable to do what we are tasked with right now. We want to do a good job, we just feel like we do not have what we need.”

Kristie Skidmore, president of AFT-Randolph, recently shared the results of a re-entry survey that was issued to all 168 AFT-Randolph members. There were 102 responses to the survey, which was created in an effort to learn about the many questions and concerns from staff about returning to school.

“We are hearing from our members locally. They do not feel adequately prepared, nor do they feel it’s possible to deliver quality instruction under the current plan,” Skidmore said to The Inter-Mountain.

One specific question within the survey was “Do you believe it is safe to return to school with students?” There were 101 responses to this question, and 70.3 percent of those surveyed responded “no” while 29.7 percent responded “yes.”

Nonetheless, students will be returning to school next week.

“It’s unfortunate that we are not delaying the start of the school year,” Skidmore said. “We need to hit the pause button to give us time to properly prepare for a sustained reopening. Waive the number of required instructional days to give education leaders and employees proper time to prepare.”

In reference to returning to school, another question asked within the survey was “What is your preference for returning to work in the fall?” In response to this question, those surveyed had the choice of “in person,” “blended schedule of in person and distance learning” or “remote learning.” Of the 101 responses 40.6 percent responded “remote learning,” 38.6 percent responded “blended” and 20.8 percent responded “in person.”

Specific concerns from AFT-Randolph members included, but were not limited to, the following: responsibilities of each scenario, safety protocols, teaching virtually, Google Classrooms and how in person and virtual will work together.

“In addition, without assurance that the CDC guidelines will be followed, there are concerns about safety,” Skidmore said. “This will be the greatest opening since the shutdown in March. Opening schools will have an enormous impact on communities. Just as precautions are taken to protect the essential worker and their patrons in the community, we must strive to create a plan that will protect our education employees, students and consequently their families and communities.”

The survey given to AFT-Randolph members was developed by AFT-Randolph with assistance from AFT-WV to gather data.

Families could choose to participate in in-person blended learning, distance learning, West Virginia Virtual School or homeschooling.

The blended learning scenario will allow students to attend school less than five days per week, and on days students are not physically present at school, instruction will be provided through an online learning platform and assignments will be completed at home.

Distance learning will allow students to engage in instruction via an online platform — such as Google Classrooms — and not be physically present at school.

The virtual school learning platform will allow students to participate in rigorous, self-paced classes online through the West Virginia Virtual School. All instruction under this platform is provided by the West Virginia Department of Education.

Finally, parents also have the option to choose homeschooling and provide their children with personalized curriculum.

During the previous two board of education meetings, several teachers had spoken during the public comment portion, outlining their concerns about the upcoming school year.

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