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Ready or not, school is coming

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Sep 4, 2020

Jefferson High School looks deserted here, but students will return to the campus on Tuesday to begin school, although under different circumstances from a normal school year. Toni Milbourne

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION — Teachers have returned to their school buildings, as the opening of live and virtual classes is set to begin on Tuesday.

Parents have selected one of the two options — to place their children in regular or virtual classrooms during the COVID-19 Pandemic — and must now stick with their decisions until January, unless a directive arrives from the office of the governor to change to virtual only.

The possibility of eliminating live classroom sessions will rely on a weekly report of COVID-19 cases on a county-by-county basis.

Bondy Gibson, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, shared information at the last Board of Education meeting on information received from the state.

“We received a document that outlined the reentry metrics tied into the governor’s color-coded system,” Gibson said, mentioning the information outlined each of the colors in the chart — green, yellow, orange and red — and what it meant when a county was classified by one of those colors.

Green on the chart coincides with minimal numbers. As cases increase, colors change from yellow to orange and then to red. Safety requirements, such as for mask-wearing, are regulated by the color chart, as well as the action of canceling live teaching.

Another document, Gibson said, outlined protocol for defining COVID-19 outbreaks in schools. Examples of various scenarios were presented and shared by Gibson.

An example would be that if five percent of the students or staff were confirmed in an outbreak in a 14-day period, then all students and staff at that particular school would switch to remote learning.

Only one student with a confirmed case in a given school will require that student to remain at home until released from isolation, and will require the core group with which that student meets to have a 14-day quarantine.

Watching the numbers and following all potential symptoms of a COVID-19 case will place a high demand on the staff at each school; however, plans have been developed to accommodate any given situation.

As the start of school draws near, parents must get into the habit, every Saturday, of checking the weekend COVID-19 case report, which will determine whether their children will be required to switch to remote learning. The uncertainty has left many people scrambling to plan for the “what if” scenario, along with the pressures of jobs and other obligations.

Stress remains on those who have selected virtual school as well, as many are still awaiting the arrival of virtual learning devices from the school system. Training has been provided for those families who have chosen to go the virtual route.

“The zoom presentation about different options was pretty good,” said Colleen Spotts, of Harpers Ferry, who plans to have her children do virtual learning. “It went into detail on each choice and how best to choose.”

As of Tuesday, Spotts’ children were still waiting for devices from the school system to allow them to log in to the virtual classroom.

Gibson stressed the school system will make every effort to work with all parents to provide the best possible education for all students, whichever pathway they choose for the learning.