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School system to stay virtual through January

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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The Washington County Board of Education is ready to remain on a virtual schedule at least until Feb. 8.

At its called meeting on Monday, Jan. 4, the BOE opted to stay on a virtual schedule until Monday, Feb. 8 with a meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 1, to decide if students can return to the classroom on a staggered schedule next month. 

The motion, made by Board Member Chad Fleenor, passed 6-3 with Fleenor, Annette Buchanan, Jason Day, Mary Beth Dellinger, David Hammond and Mitch Meredith voting in favor. Keith Ervin, Mike Masters and Whitney Riddle voted in opposition.

“I would like to meet on Feb. 1,” Fleenor said, “so we have a week to see how we are doing (in terms of COVID-19 cases).”

Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said COVID-19 case numbers had been on the decrease lately until earlier this week, which has made it difficult to say at what COVID-19 infection rate it is safe for students to return to in-person schooling.

“I know this is frustrating, but I don’t know,” Flanary said on Monday. “(COVID-19 cases) declined for several days. It spiked again today. Our entire infection rate went down.  We’re down to 369 quarantines which is way down. The county numbers have just declined precipitously until the last day or two. I know it’s frustrating, but like I’ve said so many times, I’m not that kind of doctor.”

The board also discussed the “Christmas spike” or the looming speculation that numbers could rise once again following a few weeks after Christmas celebrations ended.

“The Christmas spike ought to hit about the middle of January,” Flanary said. “That’s what the medical people are saying and it’s just a guess more than anything else.”

Because of the potential for an increase and in order to give students, parents and teachers more time to prepare for a potential return of the staggered schedule, Meredith said he felt waiting until February to make the next decision on the school schedule was the best option.

“I think we are going to see our numbers go up,” Meredith said. “To provide parents and teachers a little bit longer planning time, I would wait until Feb. 1 (to decide). Let’s just stay virtual for the month of January and bring them back in the month of February.”

Mary Beth Dellinger said she felt staying on the virtual schedule for now could give teachers time to get their second round of vaccines in before returning to school.

“There’s a lot of unknowns right now,” Dellinger said. “By (Feb. 8) hopefully a lot of our employees will have had their second vaccine. I know for a lot of them, that’s very important. I think that will be a good thing.”

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be held on Thursday, Jan. 14. To livestream the meeting, go to wcde.org.