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Education: New West Virginia superintendent has challenge ahead

Newly named West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch has an enormous job on his hands as public school officials try to figure out how to get kids back to school in a not-quite-post COVID-19 world. In fact, preparation for a possible second wave of the virus has factored in to the state Board of Education’s guidelines for reopening schools for the fall semester.

None of the three scenarios released in the guidelines included an option for traditional 5-day-a-week in-class instruction.

Instead, the first option is tailored toward younger students and involves four days a week at school, where they would be kept in smaller, isolated groups — not even going to the cafeteria for lunch. The second, meant more for middle- and high-schoolers is a blend of in-school and virtual instruction. And the third is that emergency scenario in which schools might be forced to return to full-time virtual learning.

Some of the other ideas in the guidelines might take some getting used to, for parents, such as requiring all students to wear masks on buses (and have their temperatures screened by an adult on that bus). There is also the suggestion that buses might have to run with all the windows down. Field trips are unlikely. Visitors might not be allowed in schools.

But imagine, for a moment, being in the position in which Burch and the state board find themselves. They have got to figure out how to reopen schools that were shut down entirely as a reaction to a virus that is still out there. They’ve got to truly keep kids safe, but also, frankly, go through the motions of making it seems as though they are doing things that keep the kids safe.

And, oh yes, they’ve got to figure out how to keep these kids learning; how to bring some of them back into the system that is their lifeline. We know all too well in West Virginia there is an unsettling number of children who are immeasurably better off in a school building, under the watchful eye of a teacher, than they are at home.

Each school system will decide how to best serve its students and follow the guidelines sent down by the state. Whichever plan is chosen, it will be no small challenge to keep students moving toward success in the fall; and parents’ increased role in their children’s education is not over.

Here’s hoping officials are able to build on success stories that played out this spring, and find a way to both improve the educational process AND keep students (and their families) safe.

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