Randolph BOE votes to end distance learning

ELKINS — More than 100 people tuned into the virtual Randolph County Board of Education meeting this week and watched the BOE vote to discontinue distance learning within the school system at the end of the first semester.

The first semester of the 2020-21 school year ends Jan. 22 for students. This recommendation from Superintendent Debbie Schmidlen was approved in a 3-2 vote, with BOE members Lisa Wamsley, president; Amanda Smith and vice-president Janie Newlon voting to approve, and members Rachel Anger and Melodee Price voting against the recommendation.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several parents spoke in opposition to ending the distance learning model, saying they felt uncomfortable sending their children back to school in-person during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, adding they had believed the option for distance learning would be available for the entire school year.

Meanwhile, John Lawson, director of attendance and virtual school for RCS, and Beth Williams, virtual school facilitator for RCS, offered a presentation highlighting problems facing the distance learning model and virtual school options.

Lawson reported 326 of Randolph’s 1,006 distance learning students have failed at least one class so far this school year. He added that a total of 830 courses have been failed so far.

“With the numbers that we have seen, it is a very daunting decision for the five of us,” Wamsley said. “I think that we would all agree that the children receive the best education in school, and all of us would like to see everything return to normal, pre-COVID, but unfortunately, that is not the decision we are faced with.”

“I appreciate the work that (Lawson) and (Williams) have put into this presentation. I think that data is always really important to look at when we are making difficult decisions,” Schmidlen said.

The presentation also stated that 197 students who started the school year in the distance learning model have transitioned back to the in-person blended learning model since Sept. 8.

• Also during the meeting, parents, teachers, and school officials expressed opinions about the possibility of students returning to school four days a week through the rest of the first semester.

In response to the BOE’s recent request for the superintendent to propose a calendar where students are present for in-person learning four day per week, Schmidlen offered two calendar options during Tuesday evening’s meeting.

The board voted to extend the current blended-learning model through the month of December. This calendar was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Smith voting in opposition, while Wamsley, Newlon, Anger and Price voting to approve the blended-learning calendar.

“This board, at least as long as I have been on it, has always tried to do what’s in the best interest of the students,” Wamsley said. “We do take into consideration all surveys (given) throughout the year and the information that has been compiled, and we try to take a proactive approach in the decision making.

“One of the things with COVID is you cannot guarantee the safety of others, and unfortunately, as Rachel said, this in not just a one or two day absence,” Wamsley said. “We also have to consider, do we have enough staff waiting in the wings in case a member of our team goes down — members of our team consist of not only teachers but bus drivers and cooks and service personnel, custodians.”

Students with last names beginning with the letters A-L are scheduled to attend school Dec. 3, 7, 8, 14, 15 and 21, while students with last names beginning with the letters M-Z are scheduled to attend school on Dec. 4, 10, 11, 17, 18 and 22.


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