By MARINA WATERS
Washington County Schools are operating on a virtual schedule at least through Jan. 8, but that doesn’t mean the school system isn’t taking precautions.
Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said teachers and students are still utilizing school buildings for various reasons, such as for special education classes or students in grades seven through 12 participating in science lab activities, for example. For that reason, and to get all students back in schools, Flanary said the district is working to create a safer environment.
“Even though we’re on a virtual format, we have anywhere from 800 to 1,000 people in our buildings a day but in very, very small groups,” Flanary said. “The public should not think that we’ve locked the doors and turned out the lights. We still have people in our schools, but we’re trying to follow all those protocols to keep them healthy and safe.”
The school system opted for a virtual schedule last month following rising COVID-19 numbers. Currently, Flanary said, there are 258 total students and staff that are quarantined and there are 53 confirmed cases within the school system.
Due to its inability to operate after COVID-19 concerns, Fall Branch School even closed its doors to teachers who would normally be teaching virtual school from the building.
“That school is so small and the staff is so small that you get three or four people out and you can’t effectively operate school,” Flanary said. “That shut down the office. The smart move was to take your stuff and teach from home. So far so good.”
Looking ahead, the Washington County Board of Education is considering steps to fight the virus within its schools.
At the board’s Dec. 1 workshop, the BOE discussed the schools’ current sanitizing equipment, which includes a backpack machine that uses an electrical charge to shoot a sanitation chemical onto surfaces throughout a room.
“This is good science,” Flanary said. “It seeks out surfaces. The chemical they’re using has a long-term affect. They say surface contact is a low-grade means of transportation, but we feel that this process takes our chances of surface contact to nearly zero. We’re doing that part right.”
The board is also considering adding ionizing units to its arsenal against the COVID-19 virus.
The board will hold a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 10, when it will discuss the ionizing units, which are designed to purify the air in a room by electrically charging air molecules.
“It’s expensive but I think it might be the right move,” Flanary said. “It will treat every foot of air that is recirculated through our key areas, classrooms, lunchrooms, administrative suites and so forth. The board is going to take a hard look at it.”
Flanary said securing funding for the equipment, which will cost at least $100,000, will be the challenge.
“It’s easy to say ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We have to find a way to fund it,” Flanary said. “It’s not like it will cost $12,000 or $15,000. It’s in the hundreds of thousands. If the board wants to do it, the board will have to find a way to pay for it. Hopefully they can do that. We’ll take a hard look at that Thursday night.”
The BOE’s meeting on Thursday will be livestreamed starting at 5 p.m. To join in, go to www.wcde.org.