CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County students were to take part in blended lessons through Oct. 16, but the Kanawha County Board of Education changed those plans on Monday in favor of having five days of face-to-face instruction starting Oct. 12.
The board voted 3-2 to drop the two-week plan, which members supported during the board’s Aug. 3 meeting. The plan was to go into effect when the school year began Sept. 8, but the coronavirus rate in West Virginia’s largest county was too high for in-person classes at the time.
“Now that we’re here, I don’t think that we necessarily need two weeks to do a blended schedule to go back,” board member Tracy White said. “We don’t need to be there for two weeks to learn our new presence.”
The school system began classes with the blended model on Monday. Around 13,000 students — 53% of Kanawha County Schools’ student population — are participating in face-to-face lessons as offered. The remaining students are participating in virtual classes regardless of what the school system permits.
White spent part of Monday at Kanawha City Elementary School and spoke highly of the school’s coronavirus policies.
“I feel like our teams have done everything possible they can possibly do to be prepared for what’s next,” she said. “I don’t think we’re never going to say we’re never going to have a COVID case because we will. I wish that we could say that we wouldn’t, but we will.”
Dinah Adkins, the co-president of the Kanawha County Education Association, urged the board to re-evaluate the blended model when the two-week period concludes.
“We all know that pretty much everyone wants to be back. Children are excited. Teachers are excited about being back,” she said. “But if you show a child a pretty field full of flowers and you say, ‘you can skip through that field,’ they’re going to do it. You may be the only one that knows it’s full of rattlesnakes.”
Adkins also mentioned concerns with the county’s coronavirus data; the West Virginia Education Association on Monday filed an injunction aimed at overturning the state Department of Education’s coronavirus map because of changes to recording cases, including the addition of a gold level; placing counties on a 14-day rolling average; and having nursing home residents, correctional inmates and some college students count as one unit.
Kanawha County is rated gold on the department’s map.
Board member Ryan White said teachers need to hold students accountable for following coronavirus-related policies.
“If kids don’t wear a mask, they need to be removed from the classroom. They cannot be in our classrooms,” he said. “I think we need to be vigilant, continue to test. Even if you feel good, test.”
White said coronavirus data in Kanawha County is improving, but board member Ric Cavender argued the school system would be challenged if the board allowed five-day instruction.
“It’s starting to get better, yes, but one reason why is because we haven’t had hundreds of students sharing an indoor space at one time,” Cavender mentioned.
Board president Becky Jordan, Ryan White and Tracy White voted to begin five days of face-to-face instruction, while Cavender and fellow member Jim Crawford opposed the change.