Raleigh Schools extends in-class enrollment deadline through Friday

Beckley Stratton Middle School Principal Yahon Smith monitors school bus and parent drop off of students Tuesday morning.(Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

A number of the 3,400 Raleigh County students who registered for virtual education will be returning to the classroom, after just one week of virtual instruction, Raleigh Schools Superintendent David Price confirmed Monday.

Price said an exact number of returning students was not yet available on Monday. After a large number of requests from parents, school officials are allowing those who signed up for the virtual classes, taught by West Virginia Department of Education teachers, to re-enroll in their local classrooms through Friday.

After Friday, Price said, students must continue the virtual program until the spring semester. In August, Price had predicted that a number of parents would enroll students in virtual education — an entirely online program that is not connected to a local school system — and then realize that the choice was not the best one for the student.

“We’ve had some parents who expressed frustration, which we understood that, and we were frustrated for them,” said Price. “And they wanted to come back to face-to-face.

“Some even got on the platform and decided, which is exactly what we knew, it’s pretty hard,” he added. “It’s not an easy way to deliver or receive education.

“So they asked if we would open a grace period up for them to come back to face-to-face.”

Price said parents may enroll students in school through Friday.

“We decided we would do that for them this week, only,” he noted. “After that, they’re going to be in for the semester.”

Parents are to contact the student’s local school this week to enroll in face-to-face education instead of virtual education, he said.

The blended model of face-to-face instruction and remote learning in the county was designed to accommodate all Raleigh students. The number of returning students will not likely upset teachers’ lesson plans or cause increased problems for bus drivers and other staff members.

Wyoming County Board of Education made a similar decision earlier this month.

Parents’ concerns

Keri Berry of Beckley said that she had initially enrolled her son, Brayden Thompson, in the virtual program because of his health needs.

“He has asthma, so he is high risk,” she explained. 

After the first week of virtual education, Berry said, she realized that it was not working for Brayden, who plans to return to classes at Woodrow Wilson High School.

“The virtual just wasn’t easy to navigate,” she reported on Monday. “They’re still assigning classes.

“He was just assigned physical education last night,” Berry added. “Two of the classes didn’t have teachers, and he really needs in-person instruction and structure.

“I am actually pulling him out of virtual school. He will be in regular school next week.”

Parent Kathleen Coffee posted that lesson plans for virtual school were not complete when school had started.

“These lesson plans for virtual school should have been completed by the online teachers/facilitators prior to us starting this past week,” Coffee noted.

Other parents have said in the online Facebook group Concerned Parents of Raleigh County that they encountered technological difficulties when accessing the site (wvlearns.k12.wv.us).

“Lot of work to be done” 

Superintendent Price had predicted in August that a number of parents would enroll students in the virtual program and then see a need for face-to-face instruction at the local level.

“We were afraid the (WVDOE) would be overwhelmed,” Price said Monday, recalling his initial assessment. “We know there was a lot of work to be done.

“Logistically, once people enroll, it’s not like, ‘My name’s in. It’s done,’” he noted. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done to enroll a student through that.

“The State Department (of Education) is challenged with that, as well as with limited staff,” Price reported. “When they’re doing the entire state and there were a lot of challenges about getting students enrolled in their classes on there, and signing teachers, our families, our parents expressed some frustrations.”

The glitches should be worked out as the school year proceeds.

The first week of school, nine West Virginia counties, including Fayette County, were “virtual school only,” as the number of Covid cases climbed in those counties.

Price said that virtual education is entirely different from face-to-face education. It requires more independent study and offers no in-person instruction time.

 “It’s just not easy,” he said. “Online education is not an easy type of education. 

“It’s an independent study. You have support through a teacher online that communicates with you, through online communication,” he explained. “It’s not face-to-face.

“If you’re not used to that type of class, you’re going to struggle.”

State education officials launched the virtual program in response to the pandemic, as an alternative to face-to-face instruction.

In Raleigh, students with last names beginning with letters A-K attend Monday and Tuesday, while students with last names beginning with letters L-Z attend Wednesday and Thursday. On days they are not in school, students learn remotely from iPads that teachers have downloaded with assignments. They may interact with their local teachers if they need guidance while learning remotely.

In Raleigh County, students wear masks while in school and are kept at a safe social distance on buses and in classes. Schools are sanitized every day and given a special cleaning on Friday, and buses are sanitized after each run, said Price.

Preparation for the future

Price said that some high school students have enrolled in virtual classes in the past, prior to the pandemic, and many college courses are taught on the virtual format.

“It’s tough for college students,” he said. “You have to be very disciplined and structured to be able to do that.

“It takes a lot of discipline and structure because you actually work at your own pace, and all of your assignments are there, and it’s up to you to do it.

“If you’re a procrastinator, it can get you.”

He said that the virtual classes and remote learning — local students learning remotely on their iPads from local teachers on the days that they are not in the classroom — will ultimately help college-bound students.

“I think it might be a good thing to help prepare them for what college could be like for them in the next few years,” said Price. “They’re going to see more and more online learning at that level.”

Price predicted that education could, ultimately, be changed by the pandemic, which has brought online-based learning to the K-12 level.

“I think you’re going to see more and more K-12,” he said. “I’m not so sure this doesn’t change the face of education in the future, but, really, we don’t know how.

“There are so many unanswered questions.”

Upshur County hired a local educator to serve as a virtual learning coordinator to make the transition to online school easier for students.

In Upshur, any student could opt this year to attend school entirely online, with the same content standards as in-person school, www.mybuckhannon.com reported.

Positive Covid test

One student at Daniels Elementary School tested positive last week for Covid, Price added. Raleigh Health Department officials notified Raleigh school officials of the case and conducted contact tracing, he added. 

As of Monday morning, no other cases had been reported in Raleigh schools, Price said.

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