School board weighs challenges of virus emergency
Many concerns were discussed in Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Wise County School Board, but the most imperative issue on all minds was the effect of COVID-19.
At this point, school officials are working diligently to try to open schools at the regular time in August, but they are studying many scenarios. Some other possible layouts are staggered scheduling, delayed opening and distance learning.
Staggered scheduling would try to decrease the concentration of people in school buildings by only having students attend on certain days of the week.
With delayed opening, the school board talked about perhaps aiming for September or October, with the contingency that they may have to close again if there is an additional spike in the virus.
Distance learning would set kids up at home with online class work and virtual class times with their teachers. This would bring its own set of issues, as not all students have equal access to the Internet.
It was noted that recently approved state legislation, House Bill 1280, could bring “several million dollars of additional funding” to try to get broadband internet into the areas that need it the most.
On May 19, the school system is rolling out a training platform specifically for online learning. All teachers and aides will be involved and required to complete the training, which will run through the end of May. There will also be a place online for training videos that will instruct parents on how to help their students. Teaching staff will also be available to assist parents with any questions. According to the school board, distance learning will be available for students who do not feel safe attending school.
The school board also spoke about the possibility of opening the schools but not having any assemblies.
Athletics are also still up in the air. The Virginia High School League will be required to follow the current guidelines set forth by Gov. Ralph Northam. There is a lot of concern about how much practice and training will be missed and how that will affect the athletes. There is no way to predict what will happen yet and a lot will depend on which phase of reopening the state is in at the time.
Another concern discussed is graduation. At this time, school officials still hope to give the seniors a “normal” graduation, but are preparing to have to do something different. They met last week with senior leaders on the Student Leadership Council to discuss their concerns and hear possible suggestions.
Several scenarios are being discussed: Regular graduation but in July, August or even December; a possible slide show at the Central Drive-in; or a video graduation. They would want to have a feature on valedictorians and salutatorians as well as any special speakers. They are looking for places where parents can gather with graduates for drive-by parades, but nothing is certain at this point.
School officials will be meeting again with secondary principals and seniors to discuss what graduation may look like.
Several additional concerns were raised.
Wise County Education Association president and Union Primary School teacher Paul Clark is concerned that teachers could be furloughed in August if school does not start back. He requested that the board notify teachers as soon as they know something.
Another concern: What if schools are reopened and someone contracts the virus? At this point, the school board stated, officials will be working diligently with the health department. They will discuss the sickness and potential exposure and, if someone is diagnosed, that would set many things in motion.
An issue was voiced regarding the panic that would set in if someone had been diagnosed and some parents would not want their child to attend school. The school board responded that this is a concern no matter when school starts back. At this point, they are prepared to offer distance learning to a child who cannot attend school for any reason.
One parent wondered: If a child was diagnosed with COVID-19 in a particular school, would they just shut down that school or would all schools be affected?
According to school officials, in an instance where something is localized, it would be taken into consideration. If one school has a case, other schools are likely to have one or more cases as well.
Also considered: If a child comes to school and presents with virus symptoms (which include fever and a cough), can they go to the school nurse for a COVID-19 test?
At this point, nurses cannot test for the virus, but that is being examined. As of now, the school nurse would immediately notify the parents to pick up their child and notify the health department. There is also discussion of having school staff stand outside the school each day to take temperatures before people come into the building, but nothing is confirmed at this time.
There is now a new illness showing up in children that shows possible heart damage, so the point was made that school athletic physicals need to be extremely thorough.
The school board spoke about the success of the meal delivery program launched after schools were shut down. The large, coordinated effort has delivered upward of 150,000 meals to kids in Wise County, including 20,000 meals last week alone.
The EBT cards provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 should be arriving soon, it was noted. All schools have been working on confirming the students’ addresses. The program is administered by the Department of Social Services, but school staffs have been helping move things along. They have had a huge “nutritional and emotional” impact on students. The schools are still doing delivering each Wednesday and distribute five meals at a time.
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