School leaders asking for patience to begin the year

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — School leaders are preaching patience for those county school systems that will begin the school year online this week.

Kanawha, Putnam, Fayette, Monroe, Mercer, Logan, Mingo, and Wayne counties in the orange on the county coded COVID-19 map join Monongalia County in the red that will be starting the year Tuesday virtually.

Tom Williams, Kanawha County Schools Superintendent, told MetroNews Sunday that he was expecting orange on Saturday’s map but it was still disappointing to see. He just hopes everyone remains positive.

Kanawha County School Superintendent Tom Williams
Tom Williams

“There will be bumps in the road but our teachers will be patient, we hope our parents are patient and we hope our kids are patient,” Williams said.

“We will get through this. The one thing I would say is don’t panic, take a deep breath and off we go.”

The county map looked different on Saturday from when it was first released in August, in a worsening way. More counties across the state faded from green and yellow to orange and red on the scale of 7-day rolling averages of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

“We put this map out for several weeks and it’s a little disheartening that the community spread in these areas grew as it did leading up to school,” Clayton Burch, state superintendent of schools told MetroNews Sunday.

“We all have a role in that and I know many of the teachers, students, superintendents and principals were disappointed. They were ready for September 8 in-person.”

State Superintendent Clayton Burch

Burch and Williams expressed similar thoughts for their biggest concerns to begin the school year: the safety of those in-person learning and the well-being of younger students not able to be in schools.

“My biggest fear is for our most at-risk children that might not have a parent right by their side to guide their learning,” Burch said.

“These children need a teacher, need an adult with them. It’s the time when they need someone there to guide the learning. They are learning to learn.”

Kanawha County, the state’s largest school district, had 53-percent of students sign up for in-person learning in August when the choice was given.

Williams said those students must adjust but the school system is doing everything in its power to mix up lesson plans to include live learning. He said there will be live lectures and videos online with chances to interact with students and teachers.

“Our teachers are much better prepared than we were last year in March,” Williams said. “It’s going to be rigorous and the expectations are for the students to do the work just like they would in the classroom.”

Students across the state have not been to the physical classrooms in nearly six months since the pandemic hit in March. Since then, Kanawha County Schools has formed multiple meal programs to feed students.

The school system announced on Saturday night that breakfast and lunch will be distributed via bus delivery to students’ normal bus stop on Tuesday. Deliveries will begin at 11 a.m. along normal bus routes.

On Wednesday, a three-day box of breakfast and lunch to cover Wednesday through Friday will be distributed via bus delivery to your normal bus stop. Deliveries will begin at 11 a.m. along normal bus routes.

Kanawha County Schools and those eight other counties in orange and red will not have the chance to compete in extracurricular events this week because of the map.

23 high school football games were canceled and many communities have become upset at the scale of the map. Burch told MetroNews extracurricular events should go on once the schools are back open but not sooner.

“I think our number one concern right now is getting children back into the schools. Once we can get these schools open, yeah we can continue that dialogue as we learn more and more about how the schools handle getting back in-person, what competition and practices look like,” he said.

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