By MARINA WATERS
Washington County students will officially head back to school in person on a staggered schedule starting Sept. 21.
On Monday, Sept. 14, the Washington County Board of Education decided to stick with its school reopening with some revisions. The original plan was passed at the last BOE meeting on Sept. 3 in a 7-2 vote.
The plan includes that virtual schooling will continue through Sept. 18, but starting on Sept. 21, students will return on a staggered schedule with half of the student population attending in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half attending in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday will be a virtual learning day for all students and will also serve as a cleaning day for the schools. The plan remains that a full reopening is set for after fall break, which is Oct. 2-8.
“Let’s stick with what we’ve got,” Board member Chad Fleenor said. “It’s going to be an adjustment for our teachers, our staff, our parents. That’s why I like the 50-50 for two weeks (before a full reopening).”
The board also voted to require that students wear masks at school unless they have a medical exemption. That motion passed in an 8-1 vote. Board member Keith Ervin was the only vote in opposition.
“I hope it’s treated like a dress code,” Board member Mary Beth Dellinger said. “We do need to do that … I know a lot of employees are wanting this. If we are coming back, we need to follow these guidelines.”
Director of Washington County Schools Bill Flanary said wearing a mask would be enforced as a dress code regulation. He also said students would be allowed a “breathing break” to get outside and take a break from the masks.
“They call them breathing breaks without a mask,” Flanary said. “We will do that and let teachers build that into class periods. That was always the plan, to allow these teachers the flexibility (in the schedule).”
Some board members said they still supported a full reopening plan.
Ervin made a motion for all students to return to school on Sept. 21. That motion failed in a 2-7 vote. Keith Ervin and Mike Masters voted in favor of the motion. Annette Buchanan, Jason Day, Mary Beth Dellinger, Chad Fleenor, David Hammond, Mitch Meredith and Whitney Riddle were opposed.
“Let’s go back 100% on the 21st,” Ervin said. “The longer we wait, the closer we are to the flu season and we’re going to be right back in the same boat. Folks, I feel like we’ve got to get these kids back in school … Let’s see what happens. Let’s get them back in the classroom.”
Some board members felt a transition period is needed between virtual learning and a full reopening.
“I still think they need a time to transition between virtual and a full opening,” Dellinger said. “I’m thinking from a lower elementary standpoint. They’re going to have to know their procedures and what has to be done.”
The board also voted to allow students who choose to continue with virtual schooling on Sept. 21 to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities at the schools. That motion passed with a 8-1 vote. Ervin voted in opposition.
Board member Mike Masters asked why this wasn’t already in place. Flanary said he felt if students weren’t attending school for safety reasons, the same should apply to sports and after-school activities.
“The feeling is that if a child is too medically fragile, if the child has some underlying reason that they cannot come to algebra class, then those same reasons would apply to go to volleyball practice as well,” Flanary said. “If you can’t go to school and go to class, then the same thing should apply for cheerleading or football or cross country. Why would they choose full virtual other than for a safety reason and then completely negate that entire thing for something that’s even more dangerous like participating in football? It just doesn’t add up. That’s why that was put in place in the original plan.”
Dellinger and Buchanan said they had both been contacted by families about the topic. Buchanan also said she felt that because the board opted to allow students to participate in sports while school was operating on a virtual schedule, the same should be allowed as long as virtual schooling is an option.
“I think we’ve already set a precedent with the fact the board decided to allow sports while we weren’t in school,” Buchanan said. “We already set a precedent. I think we need to continue. As long as we offer virtual, we need to offer that option. Once we do not offer virtual any longer, then that needs to be cut out.”
The next BOE meeting will be held on Thursday Oct. 1. A time is yet to be decided for that meeting. To livestream the meeting, go to wcde.org.