Mineral County to take return-to-school week-by-week
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - The decision to move Mineral County students back to in-person instruction this month will be made on the local level, on a week-to-week basis, with officials taking a number of factors into consideration.
Although Gov. Jim Justice made the surprise announcement last week that he was recommending students in the state return to in-person, five-day-a-week instruction beginning Jan. 19, members of the Mineral County Board of Education agreed Tuesday that they are not comfortable with doing that given the continued high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the county.
Justice’s recommendation had been to return to school regardless of the county’s color on the West Virginia DHHR map indicating the status of the county’s positivity rates.
Mineral County has consistently been coded Red on that map since November.
“I am not for going back while we’re still red at all,” board president Lara Courrier said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I just don’t feel it’s safe.”
Courrier went on to say she feels Mineral County has been able to slow its increase in positives recently “because of all the things we’ve been doing.
“We need to continue to follow the science,” she said.
“I am extremely uncomfortable with the Governor’s recommendation,” vice president Mary Jane Baniak agreed. “I would not ask our families or students to do something that’s not safe. The numbers need to be trending down before we consider re-entry in any capacity.”
Both Terry Puffinburger and Tom Denne agreed as well, with Denne saying, “Our COVID circumstances have never been worse. How can we possibly look to put people in harm’s way by doing what the Governor is suggesting?”
“Our numbers are still skyrocketing; I’m not in favor (of re-entry) at all,” Puffinburger said.
Denne also brought up the recently discovered new strain of COVID, considered to be even more contagious than the original strain. How that could affect students and their families in this area is as yet unknown.
Donnie Ashby noted his concern about re-entry as well, but also commented that he feels students’ education is suffering by not having them in school.
“We are failing our children,” he said, adding that he didn’t mean the county’s teachers are not doing their job. “The kids are not doing their work or their parents are doing it for them,” he said.
As for teachers’ concerns about going back into the classroom and increasing the possibility of being exposed to the virus, Ashby said, “Parents have to go to work every day. They have to face that fear everyday. If we don’t face it before long, we’ll never go back.”
After much discussion, and several comments from two county teachers who voiced their concerns about going back to the classroom before it’s safe, the board members agreed to follow Ravenscroft’s recommendation to take it one week and a time, basing the weekly decisions on the current and projected trends of positivity, as well as the numbers of those quarantining at the time, the status of the vaccine distribution, and other factors.
Ravenscroft said he would be working closely with the Mineral County Health Department to interpret the data.
More information will be given to parents as the plans are finalized.