By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - With Mineral County now in "red" status and all schools providing remote learning, the plan to bring students back to in-person classes is obviously on hold until at least after Christmas break.
The Mineral County Board of Education was scheduled to discuss and approve a re-entry plan Wednesday which would have started bringing students back in phases beginning on Nov. 30 and eventually ended the "blended" schedule.
A lot can happen, however, between Oct. 20, when the plan was first presented to the board, and Nov. 4, when they were scheduled to approve it.
In that time period, Mineral County’s COVID-19 positives have skyrocketed, and results involving students and staff have resulted in individual schools being closed while county officials conducted contract tracing.
On Wednesday morning, the county’s positives had reached the level to place Mineral in the "red" on the West Virginia DHHR map and all schools went to remote learning Thursday and all athletics and extracurricular activities were cancelled until the county is upgraded.
Although the re-entry plan was on the agenda for the board meeting Wednesday night, superintendent of schools Troy Ravenscroft told the board members he doesn’t think the Nov. 30 date will be feasible.
"Based on what has transpired … it became apparent by about Friday of last week that it would not be a good idea to increase the number of people in the buildings," he said.
Ravenscroft explained to the board members and those in the audience that the county’s 55 school systems operate based on the color coding of the West Virginia Department of Education’s School Alert System, which is only updated once a week, on Saturday, and affects school operation for the following week.
Once the West Virginia DHHR’s County Alert System map, which is updated daily, puts a county in the red, however, the Department of Education’s map is automatically updated because the red status requires immediate action on the part of the county.
Ravenscroft said, based on current trends, he expects for Mineral County to remain red on Saturday’s map.
"There’s a very strong chance that we will be remote next week," he said, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if the following week is remote as well.
He does, however, want to continue working on the re-entry plan so the county can be ready when it is safe to return.
"I recommend we revisit this every time we meet," he said.
Board president Lara Courrier said she was "in total agreement."
Board member Donnie Ashby, who spoke emphatically at the last meeting on behalf of parents who wanted to get their children back in school as soon as possible, urged Ravenscroft to keep working on the plan so the county can be prepared to move as quickly as possible.
"I want us to keep moving forward with the plan," he said. "Again, you’ve got parents struggling."
Ashby also said, however, that parents - and the community in general - need to do their part to help stop the skyrocketing numbers. Admitting that "no one hates to wear a mask as much as I do," he commented that he sees so many people out in public without one.
"You tell me you want your kids back in school, yet you don’t want to war your mask," he said. "We need for parents to understand they are the cause why their kids are not in school."
"We have to all own it and realize what matters more," Ravenscroft said of the decision to wear or not wear a mask. "Please, follow the guidelines. Please keep your distance. If we follow the rules, more things can reopen and stay open, and that’s what we all want," he said.