BACK TO K I N D O F ( ) SCHOO L
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The most important story that is on everyone’s mind as August fades into September is how our schools are going to navigate this new normal. And as those plans form, how do they affect us? This Back to School Insider’s Guide is a go-to toolkit for understanding this landscape. From Mon County Schools to WVU, the plans affect everyone, whether you have kids in school or not. This is your guide on what to expect and where to go for answers as things change. Because they will change—that’s a given. But instead of railing against where we are, let’s embrace this moment together as a community. Calmly. Creatively. Kindly. Our children are watching, and they are learning lifelong lessons: how to adapt, how to be leaders, and how to let go of expectations. In this time when we feel that social distancing separates us, Morgantown magazine will continue to be here for you as your community champion and trusted source of information
M organtown has always celebrated students going back to school, taking on a new energy as fall announces itself. But COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, and what was once an exciting time is now tinged with trepidation. The old adage “Change is the only con- stant” has become a daily mantra. New South Media is not immune to change. As evidenced by this publication, we are transforming Morgantown magazine to meet the needs of the community by offering more diversified publications delivered
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in a more timely fashion. Our new Insider’s Guides bring you the most up-to-date and need- to-know stories on a wide range of topics. You’ll be able to pick them up at select area businesses or read them digitally. We’ve also added a weekly e-newsletter, the Morgantown Lowdown , to deliver the most important local stories to your inbox and help you plan your weekends with creativity. You can sign up at m organtownmag.com . Where to Find the Latest Information Monongalia NIKKI BOWMAN MILLS, Publisher/Editor @morgantownmag and sign up for our e-newsletter. We promise we won’t fill your inbox with junk—just fun, uplifting, and useful information. Stay in touch with us!
Monongalia County Health Department monchd.org West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources dhhr.wv.gov
County Schools boe.mono.k12.wv.us West Virginia Department of Education wvde.us
4 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
volume 9 • issue 5
PUBLISHED BY New South Media, Inc. 1135 Main Street, #279, Granville WV 26534
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In This issue 6 Morgantown and Monongalia County Residents step up to observe a few simple ordinances, and the case numbers stay under control. 10 WVU: Campus Life in a Pandemic Hybrid class offerings and a limited number of group activities are supported by COVID testing as needed. 14 Middle and High Schools: Flexible Schedules, Clear Hallways Fewer migrations from class to class and more lunch sites keep hallway interactions to a minimum. 19 Grade Schools: Keeping Kids Connected Limiting activities to core groups gives young students the benefits of school while keeping them safe. 22 Frequently Asked Questions
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on the cover Our cover images were drawn by Claire Kaposy, age 11, of Petersburg, for our Back to School Art Contest. Great job, Claire!
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A Brand New School Year The 2020-21 school year inMorgantown andMonongalia County will be like no other. Here’s what you need to know. written by JORDAN CARTER, PAM KASEY, AND HOLLY LELEUX-THUBRON
Making Morgantown and Monongalia County Safe for Education
8 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
A COMMUNITY PREPARED There’s nothing like a COVID spike to focus policymakers’ minds. When cases quadrupled in Mon County in the first half of July, city and county leaders quickly set rules to keep it from happening in a much bigger way after school starts in the fall. Here’s what they put in place. Gatherings limited to 25 Public and private community gatherings of more than 25 people, indoors and outdoors, are prohibited in Morgantown. Reasonable exceptions apply to residences, workplaces, and health care and social services agencies—the intent is to prevent careless and unnecessary prolonged contact that can result in many new infections. Violations are misdemeanors carrying fines of up to $500. Wear a mask People over the age of 9 are required to wear face coverings in indoor public places in Morgantown that don’t allow for adequate distancing, except when eating or drinking. Medical exceptions are recognized. A violation carries a fine of up to $500. The Monongalia County Health Department asks businesses throughout the county to uphold this same standard, and it relies on the three strikes rule below as incentive. Three strikes This rule recognizes that the managers of places where people congregate indoors— bars, restaurants, gyms—are the best ones to prevent the spread. Any establishment associated with an outbreak—that’s three cases or more—is shut down for deep cleaning and inspection. A second outbreak shuts it down for 14 days, deep cleaning, and inspection. And a third outbreak shuts it down indefinitely. Establishments that want to stay open have incentive to monitor patrons’ behavior; patrons who witness failure to enforce can contact the Health Department.
The new school year affects all of us. Morgantown and Monongalia County are ready.
Ever since COVID-19 closed classrooms in schools and colleges across the state in March, the question has been in the air: What’s going to happen when it’s time for schools to re- open in the fall? Since then, it’s been a summer of simple pleasures—more porch time than beach time and more family movies than family reunions. We’ve washed our hands and followed health recommendations more than ever before. We’ve been reminded how connected we all are and how our choices affect each other. Meanwhile, education professionals at all levels have been trying to find the sweet spot—the best way to educate kids, give preK–12 parents some certainty about what their days will be like, get university students the knowledge they need, and keep everyone safe through it all. The number and variety of proposals has been bewildering. Still, the school year had to come, and it’s just about here. We detail in most of this publication the decisions the university and the state and county school systems have landed on.
But in a pandemic, the school year and the joyful social mixing it brings—friends together on busses, in classrooms, and on sports fields; college students back from homes across the state and beyond meeting for study and fun—that mixing doesn’t affect only the education community; it affects every one of us. So as summer progressed, city and county officials looked for answers, too. Which rules maximize freedom while minimizing community spread, and how do you best enforce them? What would give businesses the support and incentive to monitor what goes on under their roofs? Are there ways to continue having the interactions and celebrations we all love without letting the virus bust out? As we head into the latter part of August, Monongalia County has done a better job than most counties in the nation of keeping the virus under control. Because residents have learned to wear masks, keep a respectful distance, and wash their hands, we’re able to keep our shops and restaurants open and our hospitals under capacity. Getting people together is going to mean new infections, no doubt. And we have to expect county and city ordinances and school operating policies to shift as the semester unfolds. But we’ve learned a lot in five months—the policies in place now represent a start at giving students a good semester, safely.
We’ve worked together to plan for the fall. Now we have to follow through together. We’ve got this. — Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney
For more details, visit morgantownwv.gov and monchd.org .
WAYS WE SLOW THE SPREAD Learning together over the summer, Monongalia County residents have taken charge of this virus. Here’s how we’re keeping transmission rates low.
We know masks, social distanc- ing, face coverings, hand- washing, they’re working. — Monongalia County Health Department Executive Director Dr. Lee Smith
Wearing face coverings in public turns out to be one of the simplest things we can do to slow the spread. Places with mask orders have lower infection rates.
Physical distancing helps—if respiratory droplets can’t reach you, they can’t infect you. It’s the norm now in public places all over the county.
Moving activities outdoors increases fresh air circulation and minimizes transmis- sion. It’s not only safer; it’s more fun—why didn’t we do this sooner?
Testing, testing, testing—that’s the only way to be sure where the virus is. Tens of thousands of tests have been conducted in Monongalia County.
Symptom monitoring—taking temperatures at entrances, asking about symptoms—is one more way people are identified who may be infected before they infect others.
Self-isolation by people who test positive or have been exposed stops the virus there. Two weeks to re-read all of Harry Potter isn’t such a bad thing.
10 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
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As the school year kicks in, new infections are to be expected. But they don’t have to get out of control. When someone tests positive, the Monongalia County Health Department (MCHD) calls everyone that person may have exposed and tosses an information and isolation net around those people to stop the virus there. “When people cooperate, things get nipped in the bud really quick- ly,” says Jennifer Goldcamp, MCHD director of nursing. If an MCHD contact tracer calls you, it’s because someone in your family has been within six feet of a person who’s tested positive for more than 15 minutes in the previous 48 hours—a co-worker, a hair- dresser, one of your children’s fellow students. She can’t tell you who tested positive—that would violate medical privacy laws. The caller will ask whether the potentially exposed person is having symptoms or has pre-existing conditions that mean greater risk. If so, she’ll suggest getting a doctor’s referral for a COVID test. She’ll also ask for the exposed person’s address, birth date, and race, information that helps public health efforts down the line. Finally, the caller will tell you the exposed person is required to self- quarantine for two weeks or until a negative test result. Someone from the MCHD will text each day during quarantine to see how it’s going. Answer their texts—they’re working hard to minimize the spread. Transmission is a fact of life in a pandemic. Contact tracing minimizes it. KEEPING OUTBREAKS CONTAINED
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A SHORT, QUIET SEMESTER In any other year, the population of Morgantown about doubles when WVU is in session. This fall, it’s a smaller, more controlled population boost that ends early.
August Re-entry Students living in university housing moved in in pre- arranged time slots August 1–22. All students and employees were tested as they returned, with a five-day turnaround expected for tens of thousands of results. “We started working with the labs weeks ago to pull this off,” WVU Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop said beforehand. “And we’re asking folks, until they get test results back, to avoid gatherings, wear masks, and adhere to all the protocols.” Although the virus could be transmitted between test and result, Dr. Lee Smith, executive director of the Monongalia County Health Department, felt good about the plan. “Such extensive testing will give a clear idea of the disease prevalence,” he said. “Now this, you can base decision-making on.” Daily results are published at wvu.edu/ return-to-campus/daily-test-results .
Campus Lite Love or hate the fall frenzy, expect this semester to be sedate. It’s hard to know how many students are physically coming to town: at least 10,000 freshmen and graduate students, who will take classes in person, but likely less than 27,000, Fall 2019 enrollment, because upperclassmen will take classes online. Many of the lectures and performances that animate campus simply won’t take place this year. Protocols are strict. Students or employees who refuse masks face disciplinary action. COVID testing continues through the semester, especially in residence halls and athletic and performance arts programs. Students who test positive will be transferred to Arnold Hall, where they’ll be provided meals
WVU Campus Life in a Pandemic
and monitored by Student Health Services. Contact tracing will be in force.
And they’re all out of here
August 26 Classes start. Classrooms are at 50% capacity. Freshmen and graduate students will attend classes in person; upperclassmen will take classes online.
August 1 Student move-in began in staggered time slots. WVU expects at least 10,000 students physically on campus this fall.
12 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
SAFE COLLABORATION —IT’S INFECTIOUS
49% statistics come out in the fall— here’s where WVU students usually come from. 44% West Virginia Highest numbers from Monongalia, Kanawha, and Berkeley counties All other U.S. states Predominantly Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, and New Jersey 44% WHERE THEY’RE FROM Detailed enrollment %
Some student activities just can’t be done alone. Faculty and staff have gotten creative for the best and safest experience.
Theater The show will go on,
Labs Labs are collaborative
Football When WVU football players tested positive for the virus over the summer, it raised red flags. No one wants to see the season cancelled— it’s a huge economic engine for town and the university, not to mention entertainment we could all use. WVU is following NCAA guidance for safe practice and competition, measures like the use of masks, face shields, and electronic whistles. The team is also practicing in “pods”— starters against a third unit and second-stringers against a fourth—so an infection would be limited to that player’s pod. And with the rest of the Big 12, it will test football players three times a week through the season and conduct significant fitness checks before a recovered player will be allowed back on the field. Will there be fans in the stands at the first home game, on September 12? Tailgating? The Pride of West Virginia halftime show? Stay tuned.
with adjustments. Three fall productions are now two. Rent will move from an intimate venue to the enormous Clay Theatre. And King Lear will not be live, but rather filmed by West Virginia Public Broadcasting and aired in the new year. “On the technical side, we’ll build costumes and scenery and hang lights with masks and even face shields,” says School of Theatre and Dance Director Joshua Williamson. Acting and singing are high-risk activities. A mask that sits a little off the face—designed by Choral Activities Director Kym Scott and tested by WVU scientists—will be manufactured by costuming for performers’ use in rehearsal. Theater students will be tested for COVID frequently, Williamson says. ”And we are prepared to put a lot of work into a project that we may not see to the end.”
places. WVU’s Chemistry Department first thought its huge introductory lab classes would be fine—masks are an easy addition to the gloves and lab coats participants already wear, and fume hoods make for great air circulation. In the end, though, the interactivity and equipment sharing still seemed risky. “We searched high and low and found a virtual simulation platform that we’re pretty happy with,” says department Chair Gregory Dudley. “Our faculty are supplementing the simulations with background reading, virtual engagement with TAs, and extra quiz questions.” The lab space that freed up let upper-level chemistry labs spread out. “Couple that with good PPE and ventilation, and the in- person experience we can provide for those students is quite safe,” Dudley says. Still, he looks forward to getting all students back in the labs as soon as possible.
More than 100 other countries Because of ongoing travel uncertainties, most of these students have been here all along
September 12 First home football game. No fans in the stands for this one; attendance at the following games yet to be announced.
WHAT ABOUT PARTYING? It’ll happen. But a combination of clear rules and public education up front and testing, quarantining, and contact tracing at the back end should minimize transmission.
The PRT will not run this fall. Busses will connect the downtown, Evansdale, and Health Sciences campuses.
The wild card this fall semester is going to be the social scene and students’ willingness to reinvent it. “How are they going to stop them from partying and transmitting all over town and campus?” one worried Facebook user asks about WVU. “They are dreaming if they think they will play beer pong masked.” It’s true. WVU can require masks and distancing on campus and has limited the size of student gatherings to 25, but it can’t stop students from going to bars and parties. One reason university leadership decided to offer the on-campus experience this fall is that, after finishing the spring semester online-only, students overwhelmingly wanted the on- campus experience. Given that, the university believes public education will go a long way. “We’ve been communicating through the summer and will continue to do so that it is on the students—that it’s their behavior that is going to determine how successful this fall is,” says Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop. “If they really value the on-campus experience, they’re going to have to adjust.” Bar managers have incentive to keep things under control on their turf. They got a preview of the downside in July when maskless bar hopping led to
a rash of cases—and weeks of closure mandated by the governor. Now Monongalia County’s three strikes rule puts the ability to stay open in each business’s hands: An outbreak, that’s three COVID cases or more associated with a given business, shuts it down for progressively longer periods each time it happens, indefinitely the third time. Mask-lax bar managers risk closure. Students in group houses like fraternities and dorms can find their fun at home. “We have 25 guys at the fraternity, and we’re all around each other anyway. Why not watch the football game with the people you’re already with?” says Student Body Vice President and Pi Kappa Phi President Jaron Bragg. “But the university doesn’t have a say in house parties—that would fall to the county health board.” Alsop points to research showing that, if 80 percent of a population wears masks, the virus can be kept under control—the expectation being that mostly good practices keep outbreaks here and there contained. “There will be students, there will be adults, who are not going to follow best practices. We’ll have to reduce that as best we can with public education and following the governor’s orders.”
Student and employee COVID kits include masks, sanitizer, wipes, and a key touch tool.
10%may break the rules, but 90% are concerned about safety and will wear masks. — Student Body Vice President Jaron Bragg
Libraries are open—masks re- quired. Returned materials will be quarantined for 72 hours.
September 26 Homecoming v. Kansas State—parade yet to be determined.
October 30–November 7 Mountaineer Week, ending in a game against Oklahoma State. Indoor events like the craft fair are up in the air, but some outdoor events may take place.
14 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
THE FACE OF FACE-TO-FACE Graduate, professional, and international students.
WVU’s revised schedule aims to preserve the on-campus ex- perience for graduate and professional students . While essential research
continued throughout the summer, students
who were working remotely will have expanded access to on-site research. In addition, students can request extensions of their time to degree for COVID-related issues.
Contingency plans are in the works to modify graduate assistantships in the event a graduate student falls ill or must quarantine.
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utive director of WVU’s Office of Global Affairs, recommends international students stay in the U.S. due to rapidly changing travel restrictions that could leave them unable to return.
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November 24 Students leave campus and complete the fall semester from home. The spring semester begins January 19.
Middle and High Schools Flexible Schedules, Clear Hallways
CHANGE COULD BE CONSTANT Multiple plans and protocols have been prepared to dictate what school looks like this year. Here’s a rundown. After weeks of juggling priorities and still with an occasional tweak, Monongalia County Schools has formulated a clear framework for heading back to school. The reentry plan sends children to school based on alphabetical groupings by the last name of the oldest student in each household. Students in families where the oldest student’s last name begins with A–M will head to school on September 8. On September 9, they’ll have a day of remote learning, and L–Z will attend in person. Students will switch every day, A–M attending in-person on the 10th, L–Z on the 11th, and they’ll continue alternating days of in-school and remote instruction through the semester—unless conditions change. The state Department of Education is maintaining a color-coded system that will indicate each county’s safety level for school based on a seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. Twenty-five or more cases will result in a red designation, close schools, and send kids home for 100 percent remote learning. Ten to 24.9 new cases draws an orange designation, 3.1 to 9.9 yellow, and 0 to 3 green, allowing for full attendance. Counties have discretion: Although Mon County was green when the map was unveiled in mid- August, county administrators stuck by their plans for a blended rather than a full in-person opening. The map will be updated at wvde.us at 9 p.m. every Saturday so parents can plan for the week ahead. All of this may be interrupted any time a student tests positive: BOE Deputy Superintendent Donna Talerico has shared the possibility of closing the student’s school for two to five days for contact tracing and cleaning. So attendance mode may change week to week or suddenly. Parents do have other options. Until 5 p.m. on August 24, they can enroll their children in 100 percent remote learning through Mon County Schools. That option offers predictability and will be taught by local teachers. Until September 3, they can enroll them in a 100 percent online virtual school offered by the state Department of Education. Virtual school offers predictability, too, although there is no local help for students in this program. They must complete a full semester before they can return to the local system. Applications for both are available on the Mon County BOE website, boe.mono.k12.wv.us . Homeschooling, also an option, requires parents to take full legal responsibility for delivering their children’s educations. Parents must seek approval or file a one-time notice with the BOE.
September 8 The first official day of school in Monongalia County for students with last names beginning with A–M.
September 2 First day of athletic team competition, based on guidance from the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activity Commission.
16 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
THE EXTRAS The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission governs athletics and extracurricular activities for area schools.
Athletics Mon County high school athletic teams are practicing with an abundance of caution. The WVSSAC continues to provide guidance on how practices can occur safely through the use of small pods, symptom screening criteria, quarantining if necessary, and contact tracing if an athlete or coaching staff member tests positive—which a few have. The protocols seem to be working. School sports will also abide by the state’s color-coded map. Teams located in red or orange counties cannot travel to other counties for sports. Sports practices must stop in red counties. Teams in green and yellow counties can practice and travel for games. So far, the fall athletic season is charging ahead. Games are also expected to look different, with masked players, a moratorium on high fives or huddles, smaller travel squads, and extended side- lines. Spectators will be allowed for green and yellow counties but tickets will be limited.
Extracurriculars Students participate in a variety of after-school activities beyond athletics, and the WVSSAC has weighed in on many of those, too. COVID-19 presents signif- icant challenges for choirs, band activities, and fine arts perfor- mances. Experts contend that singing is a risky activity, and the jury is still out on playing— and sharing—instruments. The Commission has allowed bands to practice in pods of 10 or less and choirs to hold concerts outside and has prohibited any indoor rehearsals for the foresee- able future. County Superintendent Eddie Campbell is hopeful that school clubs and organizations will be able to meet and have activities. “It’s so important that kids have the opportunity to interact with each other and socialize,” he says. “My hope is that, if we have to reduce numbers in school, there will be ways to continue ac- tivities with small organizations in a controlled environment.”
September 9 First remote day for students A–M. First in-person day for students L–Z.
BOE PROTOCOLS AFFECTING THE INS AND OUTS OF SCHOOL
We would love to have students back five days a week but, until we have a compre- hensive public health plan or we finally have a vaccine, we may have to be realistic. — Monongalia County Board of Education President Nancy Walker
Mon County Schools has established a litany of protocols that will shape how kids attend school this year.
Health Masks are required for high school and middle school students. Anyone reporting to school without one will be given one by the school. In fact, the school board is spending millions of dollars to ensure schools have enough PPE and supplies to maintain best practices. Social distancing will be enforced at schools, although the CDC’s 6-foot recommendation isn’t possible in most schools, even with reduced populations. Implementation of a 3.2- foot span when 6 feet isn’t possible is recommended by the state’s COVID-19 Czar, Dr. Clay Marsh. The school system is also exploring holding classes in larger spaces like gyms, cafeterias, and even outdoors. Teachers and staff will suggest handwashing to students regularly, and hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout school campuses. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the school may close for two to five days to allow for contact tracing and cleaning.
Transportation Transportation will be tricky. The CDC has suggested only 18 students should ride a school bus together to maintain social distancing: one student per seat, forward-facing, and rows skipped between students. Exceptions are made for students from the same household. Superintendent Campbell says it will be impossible to meet those guidelines. Instead, Mon County Schools is asking all parents with the ability to drive their children to school to do so. All schools will identify and share specific drop-off and pick-up points before September 8. Parents will not be allowed in the buildings. For students who must ride busses, each bus will be sanitized after each run, because most school busses pick up and deliver students to the county’s elementary, middle, and high schools each day. Masks will be required, and extras will be on board for students who forget them.
Food Meals will look different this year—lunch breaks with long lines and hundreds of students together in cafeterias will not be permitted. Superintendent Campbell suggests that meal delivery will vary by school depending on its capacity and student population. Meals will likely be served in a pre-packed, brown bag format. A restaurant-style concept is under consideration where the school kitchen is open from the start of the school day until the end of the school day. Lunch pre-orders have been discussed as well as smaller lunch periods at each school—six at Morgantown High School, four at University High School, and one at Clay-Battelle Middle/ High School. The county’s middle schools will also adopt more lunch periods as their populations require, and these students may be eating lunch in classrooms. If schools are forced into full-time remote learning, the school system will adopt a feeding program for students in need.
September 10 Second day in-person for students A–M and the first day of remote learning for students L–Z.
18 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
DAY IN THE LIFE School administrators have mapped a day in the life of a 7th and an 11th grader during the upcoming school year. Here’s how they fare.
At a school board meeting in early August, board members were taken step by step through a day in the life of a student in selected grades. A hypothetical 7th grader begins her day at a specified drop-off point based on grade level. She won’t stop at a locker before reporting to first period—there’s a good chance no lockers will be used at all this year, in support of social distanc- ing. The 7th grader also won’t have any, or many, textbooks, and the school system suggests that students report to school with their Chrome- books in their cases and use simple cinch sacks to carry any personal belongings. Class changes will be stag- gered and minimized. Middle schools have 60-minute and 90-minute blocks, meaning students will move three to four times each day. Protocols for minimizing traffic in hallways will be enforced. The 7th grader will eat lunch in a predetermined area, one of many within the school. She will wear a mask for the entire day, observe social distancing, and sanitize her desk area at the beginning of each class. An 11th grader’s day looks similar. Car riders will arrive on campus through designated entrances, as will those who ride buses. Face coverings will be required and provided to students
who don’t have them. There’s no mingling in the hallways before the first bell, and the 11th grader reports directly to first period. In his first period, he might use an app called e-hallpass to sign up for lunch; he’ll also use that to request visits with school personnel, like guidance counselors and office staff. His lunch location will likely be determined by the location of his previous class period. Every effort will be made to minimize students in the hallways. The usual even and odd day schedule will remain in place for high schoolers, and there will be opportunities for tech support and assistance on working in a blended learning environment. An 11th-grader who attends MTEC will report there for his first day, September 9. His second day of in-person instruction during the phased-in reentry period will be on his own school campus. Any time students are to work remotely, the remote learn- ing environment will mimic the in-person school schedule. Both the 7th grader and the 11th grad- er must be present in the remote classroom environment when at- tendance is taken and is expected to participate. Things will look very different from the way they looked in the spring, with extra measures in place to track atten- dance, enforce accountability, and support fair grading.
We are working literally around the clock to get kids back to school. We need to be willing to look at every solution. — Monongalia County Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell
September 11 Students A–M have their second day of remote instruction; students L–Z have their second day in the classroom.
September 12 The first Saturday after school starts that the color-coded map will be updated, possibly affecting attendance mode for the following week.
Exceptional Learners More than 1,600 students in Monongalia County qualify for special education services due to disability, the West Virginia Department of Education reports. The majority of these students are equipped for remote learning in the event of another governor-mandated school closure, says Tiffany Barnett, the county’s director of student services and exceptional student education. She notes, however, that exceptional learners’ specialized instructional plans are designed to be implemented face-to-face—and not every goal in the plans, such as physical and occupational therapy, will be easily met in a remote learning environment. Since March, parents and special education instructors have been working creatively to maintain the integrity of students’ specialized learning goals. But a return to a face-to-face setting is not without its own challenges, one of which is the use of personal protective equipment. Exceptional students will be provided with a variety of PPE options, Barnett says, such as gaiters for students who have sensory processing issues or face shields or transparent masks for students who rely on lip-reading or use speech therapy. Classroom manipulatives—hands-on teaching tools like blocks and puzzles—will be replaced by individual manipulatives or supplemented by online activities.
RAMPING UP REMOTE LEARNING The school system is working to improve access and better prepare teachers to deliver a meaningful learning experience.
When students left school on March 13, it soon became apparent that no number of Arctic Academy days could prepare them, or their teachers, for what lay ahead. Fast forward almost six months, and much has been done to improve the remote learning that students will use for at least the first school term. Internet access was one of the main difficulties students faced, and School Board President Nancy Walker says many neighborhoods throughout the county don’t have the infrastructure to support improving it quickly. She also says the deficits aren’t socioeconomically driven. Mon County Schools responded with a plan to create hotspots in Wi-Fi deserts, many of which are in the western part of the county. The plan will include placing transmitters that emit Wi-Fi signals on busses, then dispatching the busses to identified neighborhoods for the school day. Access to the hotspots will fall under tight security so that only students and their teachers can use the remote technology. There is also discussion of using public buildings like library annexes and volunteer fire departments as bases for broadcasting Wi-Fi signals throughout the more remote parts of the county. And in a pinch, although it’s not ideal, Clay-Battelle principal David Cottrell says students can access the school building’s Wi-Fi from the parking lot.
Schools will also have personal hotspot equipment that students qualifying for free and reduced lunch can apply for. Given all of this, school leaders contend that the accessibility issues of the spring will not be repeated in the fall. They plan to have Wi-Fi busses and personal hotspots ready to roll out by the end of September. In addition, Mon County Schools spent much of the summer focused on how to make remote learning more meaningful
for students. The BOE staff holds a Chromebook boot camp for teachers
each summer. About 100 teachers usually participate. This summer, almost 800 Mon County teachers signed up to participate in 118 sessions over a three-week period—a testament to their commitment to Mon County students. Based on the county’s blended attendance model, internet access will be critically important for delivering federally mandated services to special education students. Mon County’s special education teachers worked over the summer to find innovative ways to follow each student’s individual education plan, including delivery of ancillary therapies online. The school board continues to stress that students who don’t have internet access at home need to let their schools know. There are ways the schools can help, but they can’t help if they don’t know.
September 14 From here, students will continue attending based on alphabetical groupings: one day on campus and one day off for elementary and middle school, two days on and two days off for high school.
20 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
Grade Schools Keeping Kids Connected
In order to min- imize contact, students will be broken into core groups they’ll remain with through- out the school day. Their homerooms will be self-contained hubs where all instruction will take place, includ- ing the related arts. Classes like music and band will be theory and virtual demon- stration, not practice, and all subjects will focus on student en- gagement rather than assessment.
SAFETY IN CORE GROUPS
To reduce densi- ty, improve social distancing, and better facilitate contact tracing, the blended learning schedule, beginning Septem- ber 8 (see page 14), allows elementary students to attend school in-person every other day. On remote learning days, students will complete lessons via their Chromebooks, newly issued to grades pre-K-2, and for the first few days of in-person learning, students will learn new procedures and safety protocols such as social distancing, proper hand hygiene, and mask wearing, which are re- quired of all staff and students. Nearly 6,000 elementary students attend Monongalia County schools. Reduced social mixing will help keep them safe.
Monongalia County teachers want to return—when it’s safe.
Although teachers miss their students, their highest priority for getting back into the classroom is the safety of students, teachers, staff, ser- vice personnel, and all of their families. On July 28, the national American Federation of Teach- ers voted in support
County teachers’ concerns were suffi- cient availability of personal protective equipment and the ability to maintain safe social distanc- ing. Fifty-four per- cent of respondents preferred full-time remote learning—a possibility teachers are better prepared for than in the spring, after almost 800
In smaller schools, classrooms
of “safety strikes” if school re- opening
will function as lunch rooms—students will have their brown bag lunches delivered. Recess will take place as core groups, too, each assigned an area on the playground. Busses, shared among all grade levels, are a different story. While the CDC recom- mends a maximum of 18 students per bus, Monongalia County will instead prioritize sanitizing and recom- mends car transport when possible.
plans don’t meet
partici- pated in a three-
educators’ health and safety stan- dards.
week Chrome- book Camp. But even if their schools don’t go fully remote, employees across the state who have medically documented health conditions will have the option to teach remotely. Accommo- dation will be han- dled on an individual basis within each employee’s county.
Locally, a July AFT–Mononga- lia survey of 320
Monongalia County school teachers and staff found that just over half weren’t comfortable with reopening plans as proposed at that time. Prominent among Monongalia
November 3 Students’ first day off will be Election Day. Thanksgiving break remains a five-day break, and Christmas break will be eight days.
May 28, 2021 The tentative last day of the 2020– 21 school year. Students will have accumulated the legally mandated 180 days of instruction.
Toddlers and Twos
Some childcare facilities have operated through the summer as critical care facil- ities. Others will open for the first time on September 14. Here’s how they’ll handle it. Temperature-taking will be a staple of daycare routines, based on guidelines from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Public Health. Any child or staff member with a temperature of 100 or above will not be allowed to enter their childcare facility and will be encouraged to contact their health provider for further guidance. Staff should wear cloth face coverings. According to Governor Justice’s mandate, chil- dren under nine are not required to wear face coverings, but parents or guardians should use their best judgement for children over two. Preventive measures include healthy hand hygiene; routine cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting of surfaces and objects; and a focus on outdoor and individual activities. For daycare facilities, an outbreak is defined as two rather than three cases within 14 days of each other and should be reported immediately to the local health department. Parents of toddlers and twos may find it reassuring that, while some children and infants have been known to test positive for COVID-19, adults make up the vast majority of cases.
THE RACE TO FACE-TO-FACE The rationale behind the return, and back-up modes of delivery and care.
Safety The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is pushing for the return to in-person learning. Governor Jim Justice has also said the safest place for students is in school, in part to restore supportive services that were interrupted when the pandemic hit in the spring. Schools provide breakfasts and lunches; they also iden- tify and meet other physical, mental, and emotional needs that unfortunately aren’t always fulfilled at home. For some children, young children especially, these supports are critical for their safety and development. The school board will have protocols in place for con- tinuing supportive services through any closures.
Community Thirty-seven percent of families favor a five-day- a-week return to face-to- face instruction, reports a Monongalia County Board of Education survey of more than 6,700 parents, while 36 percent favor full-time remote learning. In order to meet the interests of all parents within the county, Monongalia County Schools opted for a blended model— for elementary students, single days of face-to-face instruction alternating with single days of remote instruction. A return to school, even half of the time, is important not only for students’ physical well- being, says the AAP, but for their psychological well- being as well. This will keep students connected with their learning communities.
Supplemental Care Elementary schools are looking for ways to help families with scheduling challenges. At any given time in the semester, a county’s students will attend in-person, remotely, or in a hybrid mixture of both based on where its COVID numbers place it in the state’s color-coding system. Changes between in-person learning, remote learning, and blended in-person and remote learning through the semester are likely to pose scheduling challenges for working parents with children who are too young to stay at home alone. Schools are working with before- and after-school partners to arrange options for supplemental care.
22 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
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Frequently Asked Questions
24 MORGANTOWN • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2020
With masks, 3.2 feet of distancing is adequate.
On busses, students can sit next to each other while wearing masks.
COVID-19 is under control.
Asymptomatic spread will infect us all.
Asymptomatic spread is rare.
COVID-19 is far from under control.
It’s like the flu.
Safe distancing is 6 feet.
You only need to quarantine until
We’ll have a vaccine by fall 2020.
Quarantine for 14 days.
We’ll probably be wearing masks well into 2021.
you’re free of
You must wear a mask—unless you have a reason not to.
symptoms and fever.
You need a negative test to go back to sports, school, or work.
There is no need to test again to determine that you’re negative.
University dorms will be occupied at full capacity.
University classrooms will operate at 50% capacity.
Academy day, students complete lessons at home, and these lessons count as an instruc- tional day. “Remote learning” refers to an extended period of time where students are expected to attend their classes online and complete assignments at home just as they did this past spring. “Virtual learning” is a program offered by the state Department of Education in which a student attends school 100 percent online. That program is not affil- iated with Mon County Schools. How does going back to school so much later impact the rest of the school calendar? BOE administrators made adjustments to the 2020–21 school calendar that make it possible for the school year to end before Memorial Day. They achieved this by removing all early dismissals built into the calendar and by reducing the length of spring break. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks are the same length as previous years. How will proposed schedules and modes of delivery affect the quality of education? All parties agree that in-person instruction, five days each week, is the best model for student success. However, in this COVID-19 world when five days might not be advisable, a blended model is the next best thing. Mon County Schools is confident that teachers can deliver a meaningful learning experience in a blended learning environment.
in orange and red counties must implement remote learning. Counties have some discretion. Is 3.2 feet of social distance as good as 6 feet? Experts have said that, when wearing masks, 3.2 feet, or a meter, is sufficient social distance to disrupt the spread of COVID-19 in schools. This meter-based social distancing requirement will be enforced in all schools during in-person learning. What happens if a student, teacher, or staff member tests positive before the first in-person learning day? That student or teacher will not report for in-person learning or instruction on the first day of school and must quarantine for 14 days. If anyone becomes symptomatic, they can return to school only once they have achieved the CDC’s guidelines for coming out of quarantine. If someone needs to be tested, who pays for testing?
Basics What does a student need to do before the first in- person learning day? Students should prepare for the coming school year just like every year before. Teachers will provide supply lists, if applicable. Students should attend school with small cinch bags holding their students will start school on September 8. How will I know when to send my kids to school? Students in families whose oldest student’s last name starts A–M will attend in person on September 8. Students L–Z will attend for the first time on September 9, while A–M has remote learning. Students will alternate day by belongings and their Chromebooks. I understand not all day from there unless conditions change. What is the difference between Arctic Academy, remote learning, and virtual learning? Arctic Academy refers to the days, in typical school years, when students cannot physically get to their school buildings for a variety of reasons, mostly weather-related. On an Arctic
The cost of most COVID-19 testing is covered by private health insurance
companies. If parents choose to have their children tested, the testing will be paid for by health insurance, or parents can choose one of the free testing opportunities provided around the state. Parents may have to pay a deductible, depending on the provisions of their insurance. Busses and Transportation Will school busses be safe? It won’t be possible to socially distance all children on board school busses. The best way to keep your children safe as they travel to and from school each day is to take them, by car, yourself. Mon County Schools is asking all parents with this ability to be please plan for it at least for the fall semester. However, for those who ride the
Guidelines for Coming Out of Quarantine • Free of fever for 24 hours without medication • 10 days having passed since symptom onset • Overall improvement of symptoms • Or, if quarantined without symptoms but a positive test result, 14 days from test Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
What is this color- coded system we’re
hearing about? The state Department of
Education is using a color-coded system to indicate from week to week how safe school attendance is in each county. Counties are labeled green, yellow, orange, or red based on their COVID-19 infection numbers. Schools in green and yellow counties can have students in the buildings, with some differences. Schools
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