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Upshur BOE votes to resume blended model of instruction

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Parent Sarah Malone speaks at an Upshur County Board of Education meeting.

TENNERTON — The Upshur County Board of Education voted 4-1 to resume the blended model of instruction beginning Jan. 19, but to re-examine this decision at the Feb. 23 board of education meeting.

The vote came during a special meeting held Wednesday at Buckhannon-Upshur High School in which four members appeared in person and one member joined virtually. Earlier in the day, the state board of education meeting voted to require in-person instruction for Pre-K through eighth grade students beginning Jan. 19 and to have high school students attend school in person unless their county is red on the DHHR County Alert System.

On motion by board vice president Katie Loudin and seconded by board member Dr. Greenbrier Almond the board voted to resume the blended model of instruction beginning Jan. 19 following the state guidelines with social distancing and masks required for all grades. The motion passed with four members voting yes. Board member Pat Long voted no.

Long said earlier in the meeting, “I personally was not in favor of going back until everyone got vaccinated who wanted to be vaccinated and I still feel that way.”

He asked what the point of having a meeting was when boards of education were told what to do by the state board of education.

Parents still have the opportunity to keep remote learning for their students through the West Virginia Virtual School.

Under the guidelines from the state department of education, students in pre-K through eighth grade will attend in -person regardless of the color of the DHHR map but attendance at B-UHS will be based on the DHHR county map. If Upshur is red, then high school students will not attend in-person instruction the following day.

The vote to resume the blended model of instruction came after a period of discussion between board members, community members and school personnel.

Dr. Jeff Harvey, director of emergency preparedness and school safety, said of the 637 responses from staff (with a few duplicates), 391 indicated they were interested in the vaccine or just over 60 percent. Ninety doses were given in the first week and another 130 were scheduled for this past week.

Parent Sarah Malone said she had children at all three school levels and was concerned the blended model did not allow enough in-person instruction.

“Since March 13, my kids have been inside the school building 10 times,” she said. “My concern with the blended model, is as we go back and forth with red, and they end up being shut down it gives the number of times they actually have in-person instruction really low. Just looking at the way it has gone, what we end up with is very, very few days in school.”

Brittany Westfall, another parent, asked the board if they would consider going four days a week for middle school and the elementary schools that are smaller.

Dr. Tammy Samples, board president, said she wanted to see how the blended model would work.

“We are still trending very high in numbers,” she said. “I think it’s somewhat reckless to put all those students back in school until we see if it is going to be reasonable. I am not sure we are ready to put everyone back all day.”

Almond said, “I do like the blended motel that we undertook at the beginning. We had discussion about it and it made sense to me that we had a chance to clean the school and have some in-school instruction. I did like the blended model and it’s still allowed.”

Under the blended model the board approved, the blended model will be the same as the school year started. Students with last names A-L will go Monday and Thursday and students with last names M-Z will go Tuesday and Friday. Exceptions are made for siblings to go on the same day if they have different last names or if there are other underlying factors. Wednesday is a day for extra cleaning and for the classroom teachers to work with full-remote students. However, deep cleaning is done each day in the school from 2 to 6 p.m. Extra custodial staff was hired to make this possible.

Samples said, “I could support the blended model. We need to be cognizant of the middle school especially and the class sizes they have with how the small the classrooms are.”

Westfall asked, “If we do the blended, what is the purpose of the 2 p.m. dismissal?”

Jody Johnson, director of federal programs, said the 2 p.m. dismissal allows for cleaning to occur and also allows teachers to work with the fully remote students.

With COVID-19 restrictions, students are not kept together in the mornings before being dismissed all at once to their classrooms. They go directly to the classrooms meaning that all teachers are on duty once students start arriving. Teachers are also eating lunch with their students and this means that teachers need other time in the day to make up for this.

“According to state code, we need to provide students with a 30-minute lunch and a 40-minute planning, “she said.

Parent Ariel Guady said that March will make a year since the virus caused students to go to remote learning but pointed to what other counties have done to get more instructional days.

“They are not giving up,” she said. “I just feel like we have already given up hope.”

Board member Kristi Wilkerson said she too would prefer staff was vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction but she was comfortable with the blended model as well.

“It’s beyond frustrating,” she said of COVID-19. “It’s beyond disruptive to our lives. I’m a little more taken back tonight that frankly a board appointed by the governor has told us what we are going to do pretty much and not the people who you all elected to make those decisions.”

Wilkerson said she supported getting everyone back into school, but noted, “We have to take a couple more steps to get there.”

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