Mineral County BOE looking to have students back in class Nov. 30
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Mineral County students who are currently doing the blended program of both in-school and at-home virtual learning are tentatively scheduled to return to in-person schooling for four days a week beginning Monday, Nov. 30.
Students who are currently entirely virtual may be allowed to return to school at that time if certain conditions permit, but they will definitely have the option at the beginning of the second semester in January.
That is, of course, dependent upon the COVID-19 rates between now and then.
Superintendent Troy Ravenscroft presented the re-entry plan to the Mineral County Board of Education Tuesday, touching off an approximately hour-long discussion that included many different opinions and some passionate pleas.
Ravenscroft said the rumor had been going around that the transition back into class would happen earlier, but there is still much work to do to make sure all details are taken care of.
“We need more time to make sure we’ve considered everything we should,” he said.
Board member Donnie Ashby expressed his disappointment, however, that the re-entry date had been pushed back.
“I know parents are going to be disappointed; I’m disappointed,” he said. “Parents want their kids back in school.”
Ashby said he has heard from a lot of working parents who are having much difficulty keeping their children at home and helping them with their schooling.
“I’ve got parents losing their jobs, paying more in babysitting services than they’re making,” he said.
Noting that Ravenscroft had surveyed school principals on their thoughts about the return date, Ashby asked, “Why didn’t we survey the parents?”
Board vice president Mary Jane Baniak, herself a working mom, said she could identify with what Ashby was saying.
“The working moms are drowning trying to keep up; a lot are struggling right now,” she said. “I really feel sometimes like I want to put my head under a pillow and cry.”
She also understands, she says, that the county has to “put safety first.
“I know it’s a balancing act,” she said.
Board member Terry Puffinburger said he was getting the same messages from parents.
“I’m getting the same thing; the parents of the young ones though are less likely to want their kids back in school,” he said.
Baniak said she felt the plan “has some good things in it, but it needs a little more work.”
“I think this is a step in the right direction, but it’s not 100 percent yet,” Puffinburger agreed.
It was board member Tom Denne, however, who passionately pleaded for keeping the county’s students on the current schedule because the county’s COVID numbers are on the rise.
Noting that he, too, had received some “immensely articulate, passionate letters from parents,” he said, “I’m not ignoring the legitimacy of everything you brought up, Mr. Ashby.”
He feels, however, based on current COVID-19 statistics that now is not the time to be bringing students back in school.
Looking at the statistics, he said, “It’s there and its scary. Nine people died the other day in West Virginia! … Our numbers in West Virginia are so much worse then they were in March when we shut down.
“It aint getting better; it’s getting worse!” he said. “We aren’t in any position to bring anybody back!”
Denne brought up a hypothetical scenario where, if a child tests positive, the entire class and possibly entire school could be exposed.
“But you can bet that kid ain’t gonna get tested because his older brother or sister plays sports,” he said.
“Let’s face it, our current state map has been abused to allow us to play sports!
“We’re so much worse off than we were in March … it’s frightening!” he said.
Ravenscroft admitted that there really is no right or wrong answer as the county tries to decide how to do what is best.
“For people who want to come back, nothing is soon enough,” he said. “For those who want to stay at home, it’s too soon.
“No one is wrong in what they’re saying. These are the things that keep me up at night,” he said.
Ravenscroft did say, however, in regard to Ashby’s question why parents weren’t surveyed, that the county would be talking to parents once the target re-entry date is finalized. That way, county staff can use the information to help them to finalize details specific to each school and grade level.
He also admitted that what Mineral County has been doing so far has apparently been working.
“We’re one of the few counties who have not had to shut a school down for multiple weeks,” he said.
“All we can do is keep our eye on safety and make the most reasonable decision we can.”
Ravenscroft will continue to fine-tune the plan and final approval is expected at the next board meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 6 p.m.
Approval depends, of course, on where the COVID numbers are at the time.