Many voices were heard at the Sept. 17 Jackson County Board of Education meeting regarding the board’s adopted school re-entry plan. As of now, students will be attending school five days a week beginning Sept. 28.

About 20 people attended the meeting with several speaking during the public comment portion. Educators, parents, community members, and a health professional all expressed their concerns regarding the plan.

With a positive test result reported at Kenna Elementary, the first school-related case since students started school on Sept. 8, the majority of those speaking urged the board to stay with the “2-1-2” plan currently in place. This plan allows half the students to attend the first two days and the other half the last two days with Wednesday as a work and deep cleaning day.

Ronald Greer, a local physician, explained that the peak infection rate is two to three days prior to symptom onset.

“This can be spread so easily and not known for several days,” he said. “This re-entry plan turns bad in less than two weeks. I understand the kids may be falling behind a little, but at least they’re alive.”

Jackson County Education Association (JCEA) and Jackson County American Federation of Teachers (AFT) representatives also expressed their support of the “2-1-2”.

“The more students attending, the less we are able to follow safety guidelines,” AFT president Tanya Cole said. “For example, right now they can do hands-on science with smaller numbers of kids. It is hard to social distance even with two days but it will be impossible with all of the students back at one time.”

Both Adena Barnette and Leslie Haynes of JCEA concurred.

“Our teachers and staff are becoming stressed to the extreme,” Haynes said. “If you look at this room tonight, you see the number that some of us have to social distance if all our students come back at one time. It’s impossible.”

Noah Miller, who spoke passionately as both teacher and parent, urged the board to communicate more clearly.

“I truly appreciate you all and the job you do,” he said. “I was so impressed with the more restrictive original plan and then it was changed suddenly without explanation. I wanted, as a parent, a call about the Kenna case because my child attends school there and it’s hard to make a decision without information.”

Other community members spoke about the sex trafficking epidemic facing the nation. Tabitha Simmons, Barry Holstein, and Kim Wigal said that this crisis is one that touches Jackson County.

Simmons stressed the importance of having children back in school five days a week.

“Some of these kids live in horrible situations,” she said. “Their only refuge is school. That’s the place where those trained to look for signs of abuse can change lives. Their only chance for survival is being rehabilitated from the life they are living.”

Holstein, from Community 101 Inc., offered the board a training program through Share Hope International that will help teachers and counselors to better understand the signs of abuse and how to help students. This would be provided at no cost to the county.

Board members Ben Mize, Steve Chancey, Dan Barnette, Jim Frazier, and Bobbi Ferrell all expressed their appreciation to those attending and speaking at the meeting.

“Thank you for being here tonight,” Mize said. “It’s important for us to know your thoughts. We constantly think of what’s best for everyone and your input certainly helps. We are all in this together.”

A special meeting was set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22 (tonight), in the Ripley High School Auditorium to consider the school re-entry plan, financial matters, and policy revisions.

One major impact on school attendance is virtual school. At its height, over 1,100 students had opted for this educational plan. As of the board meeting, 308 students have requested to return to in-person school, leaving 856 enrolled. Students have until Sept. 30 to opt-out of the program. After that date, students must continue until the end of the semester.

Jim Mahan, director of secondary education, said there are a variety of reasons given by parents and students for choosing to come back to in-person classes.

“The top three are the classes are too difficult, devices are not easy to work with, and internet service isn’t sufficient,” he said.

Superintendent Blain Hess reported one bright spot regarding internet hotspots being placed in various homes in the county.

“We are able to do more than the 1,000 planned,” he said. “Principals are letting us know students in need and the grant money is able to cover more locations. They are in the process of being configured now and hopefully, will be put in place very soon.”

Hess also said he has received several calls asking about virtual school for preschool.

“While that’s not normally an option,” he said, “we are going to pilot a program called Distance Family Engagement for up to 40 preschool students. We will, of course, follow all guidelines set by the state board of education.”

A special part of the meeting was recognizing two retirees.

Lori Mahan, a teacher at Ripley Elementary, retired with 38 years of service. Linda Hatfield, a Ravenswood Middle teacher, retired with 50 years of service.

In other business board members:

• Voted for non-participation in the deferring of payroll tax obligations in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

• Approved school support organizations for the 2020-21 school term

• Approved a change order for the Ravenswood Middle School project of $25,000 from Wolf Creek Contracting Company LLC. and Burdette Electric Inc for $14,332.29

• Approved a memorandum of understanding with Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council Foster Grandparent Program

• Approved a memorandum of understanding with KVC of West Virginia to provide school-based behavioral health services for the 2020-21 school term

• Replaced Policy 5517.02 Title IX Nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities with Policy 226

• Repealed Policy 5517.02 Title IX Sexual violence

• Approved Summit Electric Group, Jackson County Courthouse, and Humpty Dumpty Nursery School as cooperative learning businesses

• Approved Ripley High Junior Varsity football trip to Marietta, Ohio, on Oct. 5, 2020

In personnel:

Retirements: Belinda Staats, second-grade teacher Ripley Elementary, effective Nov. 1, 2020

Resignations: Erin N. Petry, substitute aide

Transfers: Teresa Miller, bus operator Route #16 to Route #28; Charmin McCarty kindergarten teacher Ripley Elementary to first-grade Evans Elementary

Employments: Melissa Wahner, custodian III, Ripley High/county office; Rowena Mullins, substitute secretary; Steven Williams, assistant junior varsity football coach; Sheri Pursley, Title I teacher half-time Ravenswood Grade, half-time Ravenswood High; student to participate in Transitional Education Program, Ravenswood High

Other: Lisa Casto, cook III Henry J. Kaiser, intermittent family medical leave of absence effective Aug. 26, 2020; Jarin Anderson, authorized certified coach soccer, Ravenswood Middle

Miscellaneous: Lists available at boe.jack.k12.wv.us: Teachers after school tutoring and/or detention at Henry J. Kaiser, Cottageville Elementary, Ravenswood Middle, Ravenswood High, Ripley Middle, and Ripley High at $25/hour; Paraprofessional/aides approved by principals of various schools to perform specialized health care procedures; school secretaries approved by principals to perform specialized health care procedures (administration of medication only)

A special session of the board will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22 (tonight), at the Ripley High School Auditorium. Items on the agenda will be a review of the school re-entry plan, finance, and policy revision.

The next regular meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the board office.