“We will make it work,” Wyoming County Schools Superintendent Deirdre Cline said right after Gov. Jim Justice announced in mid March that he was closing schools statewide due to the impending health threat from the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the time, there were no confirmed cases in the state; however, with the fast-paced spread across the globe, officials knew it was only a matter of time.
“These are extraordinary times. In all my 34-year career, I’ve never seen anything like this... But the school is a microcosm of our society,” Cline said at the time.
“Hopefully, this health crisis will pass very soon and our world will return to the normal we all knew, before this pandemic arrived.
“Until then, we must work diligently, together, in all regards, toward the health of ourselves and each other,” Cline said.
l l l
At the time of the governor’s announcement, Cline already had a tentative plan outlined that would keep students working at home for at least a week by using their NTID/snow/weather packets.
Within a week, Cline and administrators had a plan to keep students in contact with teachers and keep them working at home as much as possible through the remaining school term.
The central office continued to be staffed throughout the crisis.
Sites were designated to feed students as the school closure continued. Professional and service personnel worked alongside community volunteers to feed students at the designated sites as well as deliver food and assignments, from school buses and privately-owned vehicles, to students without transportation.
Cline, who took the county school system reins in 2016, has kept her positive attitude since the governor’s first announcement.
In June, she and a 114-member task force that included administrators, teachers, parents, nurses, among others developed a framework to protect personnel and students as much as possible when schools reopened.
That framework – which also included guidance from the Governor’s Office, the West Virginia Department of Education, as well as the state Health Department – continues to be fluid and can be changed as circumstances require.
In August, professional and service personnel returned to school and participated in a variety of in-service and professional development sessions in preparation of the unprecedented school year ahead.
Students attend Monday and Tuesday, then Thursday and Friday. Classrooms are deep-cleaned Wednesday while students work from home, then again Saturday.
All students will be supplied with iPads (kindergarten-second grade) or Chromebooks (third-12th grade) for working at home on Wednesday or in the event of an extended closure due to an increase in the spread of the virus within the county. The assignments will be pre-loaded into the device.
The electronic devices had not all been delivered prior to school starting, so teachers prepared work that students could take home and complete if the circumstances required it.
Custodians and bus drivers were trained in the use of chemicals and sprayers for disinfecting facilities and buses.
All schools have personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, shields, sanitizers, and other items.
Buses have been equipped with hand sanitizer dispensers, so that children can use it as they get on and exit the bus.
Styrofoam containers and plastic cutlery are used for meals.
Students’ temperatures are checked before getting on the bus and they answer a few Covid-related questions, Cline said.
Their temperatures are checked again upon entering the school buildings.
Students with a fever or virus symptoms will be isolated in the school as a precaution.
Masks are required in all group situations.
Social distancing protocols required that classroom designs be varied.
Schools officials also had to provide alternatives for parents/guardians who feared sending their children back to school with the virus still spreading.
Nearly 750 students elected to participate in virtual classes at home for at least one semester, no matter what happens in the county schools. Those classes will be through West Virginia Virtual School, provided by the West Virginia Department of Education.
Parents could also decide to home school their children. That option will require pulling students from the county system, according to officials.
However, based on state law, schools officials have to be notified when a parent decides to home school his/her children.
“Wyoming County Schools has worked proactively, and in full collaboration with the Wyoming County Health Department, to plan and be ready to welcome students back to a safe and positive learning environment,” Cline said in September just as schools were set to re-open.
“Our schools have planned, along with the Central Office, to revise and create protocols and procedures that will keep students safe, while they are learning.
“This pandemic situation is ever changing and unpredictable; however, we will work together,” she emphasized, “with our schools and families to overcome obstacles and take care of children.
“Wyoming County Schools is grateful for the support of our communities and families as we move forward into a new school year, full of hope and opportunity.”