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Burch says school reentry plans due by Aug. 14

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — All 55 county school systems have until Aug. 14 to submit a reentry plan to the state Department of Education using the department’s toolkit.

State Superintendent Clayton Burch

State School Superintendent Clayton Burch said those plans will cover a wide variety of pandemic-related issues.

“Everything from transportation to cafeterias to the classroom itself,” Burch said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline.” Health and sanitizing, everything the folks have looked through our toolkit on we’re going to ask them to have a plan ready to post for the public.”

Gov. Jim Justice announced last week a statewide school start date of Sept. 8.

“The governor bought us some time to make sure we’re ready,” Burch said.

The Department of Education is helping counties change their school calendars and also providing professional development opportunities. Burch said he did a town hall with teachers Wednesday and has another one scheduled for Friday.

He said next week state Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh and the state Bureau of Public Health will begin conversations with county school superintendents.

“We want to help them track their (COVID-19) data and understand that they’re going to have to have a contingency plan if the governor feels it is not safe,” Burch said. “We may have some counties that aren’t ready on that Sept. 8th date.”

Monongalia County plan 

The Monongalia County school system has already been consulting with Marsh. Superintendent Eddie Campbell said the county’s reentry plan is coming into focus.He said in the area of transportation, only 18 students will allowed to ride on a bus and that creates a need for parents to help get students to their building.

Eddie Campbell

“If you can find a way to get your kids to school without using the public school transportation system that is certainly going to help us,” Campbell said. “We think a lot of parents will want to do that anyway because of the circumstances.”

The district has purchased sophisticated disinfecting equipment that will be used following each run, not at the end of each day. All students riding the will be required to socially distance and wear masks or face coverings while on the bus.

Recess will be done in shifts or students will be given a designated area to play so social distancing can be controlled. Some students will eat lunch outside while others may return to their homerooms.

“You may see Morgantown High School students eating lunch until the weather gets bad at the football stadium so they can social distance.”

The plan includes one-way hallways, one-way stairwells, entrance and exits to bathrooms designed so students are required to distance. There will also be signage to remind students about wearing a mask or face covering, social distancing, good hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette.

“All students, pre-K through grade 12 will wear masks where it is feasibly possible,” Campbell said. “So when they’re in a classroom or a hallway we have an expectation that they will be wearing masks.”

Face coverings should be made of any type of cloth and Campbell encourages students to be creative with designs, maybe incorporate school spirit.

While in classrooms the social distancing standard will be 1 meter or 3.2 feet, different than the CDC guidelines we’ve heard over the past few weeks.

“The science that was out there says in a normal talking situation 3.2 feet or 1 meter was an acceptable spacing situation,” Campbell said.

Survey responses

The state Department of Education received 36,000 responses to its online survey seeking input on the reentry issue. Burch described the responses as a “mixed bag.”

“We have families that are wanting their children five days a week. It’s an issue of not only education but child care. We also have families asking about virtual school options,” he said.

Burch said some counties are looking at expanding their virtual learning programs.

“If you choose to go virtually there’s going to be an accountability piece to that–you’re going to have to be engaged, you’re going to have to have a way to monitor and track those students.”

Burch said he believes in-person instruction remains the priority.

WAJR Radio’s Mike Nolting contributed to this story. 

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