West Virginia waives school days lost to IEI fire

PARKERSBURG — State Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine has decided Wood County Schools will not have to make up the five days lost in October due to the Intercontinental Export-Import Plastics warehouse fire.

Wood County Schools Superintendent John Flint said he received a letter Thursday from the state superintendent’s office saying the school system’s request for a waiver was granted. Schools were closed Oct. 23-27 while firefighters battled a fire at the old Ames shovel plant in south Parkersburg. The fire sent up a plume of smoke that could be seen and smelled for miles.

Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for Wood County Oct. 24, and Flint requested the district’s state-required 180 days of instruction for the 2017-18 school year be reduced by five days.

In the letter, Paine cites West Virginia code 18-5-45, which allows for a reduction of the instructional year in cases of federal emergency or “in any county subject to an emergency or disaster declaration by the governor when the event causing the declaration is substantially related to the loss of instructional days in the county.”

The district closed schools due to air quality concerns stemming from the fire and officials conducted air quality testing and replaced filters in all Wood County Schools facilities prior to classes resuming Oct. 30.

“I think the decision by the state superintendent reinforces the catastrophic situation that not only the students but the whole community went through,” Flint said. “There has been a lot of concern and uncertainty among parents, and now those days are excused based on the merit of the situation.”

Flint said Wood County Schools officials are still in the process of determining the cost of the fire to the district, which paid $30,000 for the air quality testing and new filters. That number does not include overtime or the hiring of additional manpower for filter replacement.

Determining the total cost and petitioning the state for reimbursement “will be our next focus,” Flint said.