By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County School System has a tentative plan to continue virtual learning while eyeing a future in-person reopening plan.
In a 7-2 vote on Thursday, Sept. 3, the Washington County Board of Education opted to continue virtual schooling through Sept. 18 with plans to reevaluate current COVID-19 numbers at a called meeting set for Monday, Sept. 14.
The motion also included that on Sept. 21-28, schools will operate on a staggered schedule with half of the students attending in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half of students 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. Schools could possibly return in complete capacity after fall break, which is set for Oct. 2-8 for Washington County Schools. Board members Keith Ervin and Mike Masters voted in opposition of the motion.
“Let’s look at our numbers,” board member Mary Beth Dellinger said, referring to the plan to reevaluate the county’s COVID-19 numbers. “If our numbers are high, we need to continue on virtual. If our numbers are good, we may want to go full open. That would give us about two weeks (to evaluate).”
Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said some area schools have started operating on a staggered schedule while some have remained on a virtual learning plan, but no system has returned to full capacity.
“Eleven of 17 districts have students in the building in some way,” Flanary said. “No one has 100% of students back in the building at this time.”
Washington County’s secondary, elementary and special education directors reported to the board that 60% of Washington County’s high school teachers said they wanted to remain on the virtual plan while 27% said they were in favor of a full reopening. Out of the county’s special education teachers, 46% said they would like to remain on the virtual plan while 28% want a full opening and 24% would like a staggered schedule. As for elementary school teachers, 43.5% said they do not feel prepared if students return with a staggered schedule while 36.1% said they “maybe” felt prepared to return with a staggered schedule and 19.6% said they felt prepared.
Secondary Education Director Ashley Keys also said online student participation has currently dropped for Washington County Schools.
“We’re on a pretty steady decline,” Keys said. “Student participation is down. And if you’re an at-risk kid and you’re not reading on grade level and the teacher’s putting out grade-level reading content, it’s much harder and it’s going to take you a lot longer to do it.”
Keys added that some high school seniors are especially struggling.
“I’ve heard from families of students who are not logging in like they should,” Keys said. “They’re working (a job) and, for some of them right now, that’s the only income in the house. I know that’s sad, but it’s true. And they’re helping their siblings because parents are working full-time … they’re helping them, so they cannot get on (to attend Google meet sessions).”
She also said 31% of Boone and Crockett seniors are failing at least one course. Around this time of year, she added, that number is typically at around 10%.
“I am very, very concerned about our at-risk seniors,” Keys said. “We currently have 218 seniors failing one or more classes. That’s 31% of our senior class … There are 56 seniors who have already missed five or more instructional days. That’s 9% of the senior class.
“Regardless of the environment, we need to make some individualized plans to support at-risk seniors in order for them to complete their graduation requirements on time.”
Board member Chad Fleenor made a motion, which was approved unanimously, to allow the director of schools and staff to bring in at-risk students to help improve their grades.
“We’ve got 31% of our seniors that are failing at least one subject,” Fleenor said. “I think it’s important we get ahold of them as soon as we can.”
The board will readdress the school opening plan on Monday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. That meeting will be livestreamed and can be viewed at wcde.org or https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDnmnXQAmOV6q16q0xrEpPA/videos.