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Wood County Schools looks at state re-entry plan

PARKERSBURG — Wood County Schools Superintendent Will Hosaflook says schools have met nearly every re-entry requirement outlined Wednesday by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, but officials are still seeking guidance on some items.

West Virginia schools are set to reopen Sept. 8, but uncertainty concerning the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for officials to determine reopening plans. At Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing, Justice announced a “plan” for West Virginia schools and requirements for re-entry this fall.

However, many of the areas touched upon have already been part of reopening plans approved in most of the state’s 55 county-based school systems, including Wood County Schools which last week approved a re-entry plan.

For example, Justice said the state plan requires meals to be provided to all students whether they attend classes in person or are enrolled in virtual school.

Hosaflook said an all-inclusive meal program is already in the district’s re-entry plan, with students being able to pick up meals at the school and students on a staggered schedule taking meals home with them as they leave school.

Hosaflook said one area of confusion involves transportation. During his press conference Tuesday, Justice indicated school systems would provide transportation for students in a variety of situations, including sports practices and even accessing wi-fi hotspots.

But Hosaflook said providing bus service for all sports and extra-curricular activities would be logistically impossible.

“I don’t know that we have enough bus drivers in the state of West Virginia to accommodate that,” he said.

Likewise, Justice announced grant funding to install additional wi-fi access throughout the state and indicated most would be located at schools.

However, Wood County already provides wi-fi access at all schools without entering the buildings.

Justice also talked about busing students to wi-fi hotspots to do online work, but Hosaflook said that too would prove nearly impossible.

“Who will watch the kids? How long does the bus sit there?” he said. “Do they wear masks the whole time they’re on the bus? How do you social distance? Some of those buses don’t have any air conditioning, so how is that handled?”

The district also has purchased 1,700 portable wi-fi hotspots which work through cellular service. For those students who live in areas that do not have cellular service, Hosaflook said officials are working with cable providers to form a solution.

Justice also announced students and teachers would have the option of attending school remotely, but did not specify how. Wood County and other school systems already are offering enrollment in a state virtual school program.

“They can sign up for the virtual option. However, once you sign up you have 14 days to decide whether you will stay in the virtual school or not” due to staffing and budgeting, Hosaflook said. If a student remains enrolled past the 14 days, “they attend virtual school for the rest of the semester.”

The state Department of Education issued a clarification shortly after Justice’s announcement Wednesday, saying school systems could make accommodations for teachers who are medically fragile. Hosaflook said state and federal guidance already provides options for employees in those situations.

Hosaflook said state Superintendent Clayton Burch and other state officials are working with West Virginia superintendents to ensure all guidance is understood and requirements followed prior to the Sept. 8 start of school.

Contact Michael Erb at merb@newsandsentinel.com.

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