Mercer Co. School bus

PRINCETON — Area school systems are still working on plans for reopening their classrooms after West Virginia’s governor announced a September target date for getting students back to school.

Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that the state’s school year will not begin until at least Sept. 8. Justice told the public that this decision gives everyone more time to assess the COVID-19 situation while the number of cases keep rising both in the state and the nation. School usually open in mid-August.

The Mercer County Schools system has several committees that are working on all the aspects that go into opening classrooms.

“We’re still trying to figure things out as well,” said Amy Harrison, data and information specialist for Mercer County Schools. “We have committees working on school procedures and we have those groups, elementary, middle school and high school. Nothing has been set in stone. We’re still in the beginning stages.”

Guidelines from the West Virginia Department of Education outline options for school systems including remote learning and virtual learning.

Remote learning would involve students being divided into groups. Alternating groups would come to school part-time. One group would be in the classroom while the other would be doing their learning from home, she said.

Remote learning includes online/virtual instruction, paper packets, tele-instruction and/or other mediums that students may participate in while they are physically away from the school building, said Christy Day, executive director of the state Department of Education’s Office of Communications.

In virtual learning, students would be online 100 percent of the time without physically coming to school, Harrison said.

Virtual school is an option that each county must offer, Day stated.

“They can either use the state Virtual School platform or they may develop their own. It is a type of remote learning however, once the students enrolls in virtual school they would ‘attend’ virtual school for at least a semester,” Day said. This comprehensive instruction option would meet all of the state standards and requirements.”

Students would need to have access to the necessary technology (computer, tablet, broadband) to attend virtual school as they would not attend a brick and mortar school facility, she said. These county and state programs are considered public West Virginia schools within each county and so the student would still be enrolled in their local school district.

Keeping schools disinfected comes under another committee.

“Then we have a cleaning and hygiene committee. How areas are cleaned and how high-touch areas and school buses are cleaned,” Harrison added. “We have a communications committee, and that’s how we’re going to get information to parents in a timely manner. And also how we’re going to communicate with students through remote learning.”

A transportation committee is working on bus schedules and how they could change if school days are shortened or groups of students come to school on a part-time basis.

“The last one is child nutrition to deal with feeding of students,” she said. “And if we have remote learning, how we get them their breakfasts and lunches.”

There is no guarantee that West Virginia’s schools can reopen on Sept. 8 even though school systems are making arrangements.

“Of course, this is all contingent on what COVID looks like in Mercer County at that point and what the governor decides,” Harrison stated. “We just don’t know at this point, but our goal is to have the kids in school for as many days as we can.”

Justice said when he made his announcement that a Sept. 8 opening date will include 180 instructional days while letting the school year finish by late May.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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