Mineral County Board members express frustration with back-to-school directive
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Mineral County Board of Education members expressed their frustration with the state board of education Tuesday, saying they still don’t agree that the time was right to return their students and teachers to in-person learning.
After Gov. Jim Justice made the surprise announcement Dec. 30 that students would be returning to class beginning Jan. 19 regardless of their county’s color on the West Virginia DHHR COVID map, the Mineral County board members agreed at their Jan. 5 meeting to make the decision locally on a week-to-week basis.
Superintendent Troy Ravenscroft said the decision of whether the next week would be all remote, in-person or blended would be made every Friday after checking the map and consulting with health department personnel.
The West Virginia Board of Education, however, issued a directive last week that every county had to offer in-person instruction - either five days a week, four days a week, or two days a week.
“So we followed the state board’s directive, and chose the safest path,” Ravenscroft said, noting that beginning Tuesday, students were back in school on the same blended A-B schedule they had when they returned to school in the fall.
“I want to emphasize to the public there wasn’t a lot of options in that directive for our local board,’” he said.
Since the WVBOE issued its directive, parents and teachers from all over Mineral County have been contacting the board members and county office to express their displeasure with the decision.
“I share with many of you the frustration with the state board,” president Lara Courrier said Tuesday, adding, however, “We can’t go against their directive.
“I just wish we could go back to the policy we decided upon and make the decision at the local level,” she said.
According to Courrier, however, a statewide meeting with the WVBOE made it clear what would happen if any of the county’s 55 school boards did not comply with the state directive.
“(They) basically told us what could legally happen to us if we chose to go against the directive … I can’t jeopardize this board with what could fall down on us if we go against the state,” she said.
Board vice president Mary Jane Baniak also expressed her concern that bringing children back in school now, when the county’s COVID numbers are still high, could cause the positives to spike back up higher.
“I worry that all of our hard work the last year may be erased,” she said. “I’m worried that we’re asking too much of our teachers. The timing is just not ideal since we are so close to those asking to be vaccinated to have that opportunity.”
Baniak went on, however, to ask the parents and teachers of the county to work together to make the best of the situation.
“Since we do not have local control … I am asking that we come together as a community to focus on what we can control,” she said.
“I know we can’t go against the state … but I don’t understand why we can’t wait just a little bit longer until all our teachers, parents, grandparents and everybody has had time to get the vaccine,” Terry Puffinburger said.
“I find there is no excuse for starting in-person school until five days after our last employee has had the opportunity to receive the second vaccine,” Tom Denne said.
“The state has forced our employees into taking unnecessary health risks … in’s unconscionable.”
Donnie Ashby, who has been vocal about the need to get the county’s children back in school, said he doesn’t have the answer to the very difficult situation.
“I want everybody to understand … it scares me. My wife’s a teacher too. I’m concerned,” he said.
“But if we look over the last three or four years, these children have had their years affected by teachers’ strikes, COVID … you name it and they’ve been affected. These kids have not been in school a full school year for the last three to four years,” he said.
Emphasizing his earlier comments that the children’s education is suffering, not because of the teachers not doing their jobs but because of the kids not doing their work, he said, “The kids are not doing what they need to do to keep up.
“I understand the safety aspect … but we’ve got parents who are struggling; we’ve got students who are struggling,” he said, adding, “I don’t know what the answer is.”
Based on the blended A-B schedule which the county utilized in the fall, students in Mineral County are alternating days, with one group attending Monday and Tuesday and being virtual Wednesday through Friday, and the other group attending Thursday and Friday and being virtual Monday through Wednesday.
Wednesdays are kept open at the schools for cleaning.