BOE approves school reentry changes

Suzette Lowe
Reporter
Superintendent Blaine Hess (left) and Board of Education Vice-President Jim Frazier (right) recognized Cathy Pitts (center) who retired as paraprofessional and aide at Ripley Elementary after 18 years of service.

The school reentry plan has been an item on every agenda of the Jackson County Board of Education this school year. If not on the agenda, the item cannot be discussed.

At its Oct. 15 meeting, the board chose to discuss and ultimately make a change to the current plan. In a unanimous decision, members voted for kindergarten through fifth-grade students to begin five day in-person attendance beginning Oct. 26. Pre-school students will attend their normal four days per week. Middle schools and high schools will continue with the current 2-1-2 plan.

Prior to the vote, several people spoke to the issue. Two parents, Megan Lanning and Jessica Burch, urged the board to take action to allow students to attend five days a week.

“Our kids are suffering,” Lanning said. “For those who are behind at this point, they will never catch up if you don’t do something soon.”

Burch, who has two children in high school and one in second-grade, expressed concern for her children’s future.

“I’m afraid for my children going to college if they’re not ready,” she said. “Scholarships are impacted by their grades. My youngest needs speech classes and those can’t be done virtually. The only thing that seems to be moving forward is sports, not education.”

Teachers spoke in favor of continuing the 2-1-2 plan saying that the safety of students and staff must be the top priority.

“The infection rate is moving in the wrong direction,” Ripley High School teacher and president of the Jackson County Education Association Adena Barnette said. “We are struggling to get substitutes for all of our teachers that are being quarantined because of exposure.”

For the Board, it ultimately came down to concern for those in the early grades.

Dan Barnette said that, while education is happening on the two days students are in school, it isn’t enough.

“These kids are hurting,” he said. “What’s going to happen when they get so far behind that they can’t catch up? All of us are living with this virus every single day. There’s not an end in sight and we have to get these kids back in school.”

Concurring with those remarks, Jim Frazier pointed out that since March, students have missed about 80 days of instruction.

Steve Chancey and Ben Mize, who have been proponents of five day in-school instruction from the beginning of the school year, said schools are the only entities not open.

“Ravenswood schools haven’t had any cases,” Chancey said. “In a way, we’re punishing those schools because of cases in others. And it comes down to students needing to be taught by trained professionals.”

After the meeting, Burch and Lanning expressed satisfaction with the action of the board.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Lanning said.

Burch agreed, but expressed hope that high schools will soon be back for five days as well saying, “I’ll keep fighting for that.”

Superintendent of Schools Blaine Hess informed the board that since Sept. 8, a total of 18 COVID cases have been identified in the school system. There are currently four active cases.

Hess also pointed out that the pre-school, which currently has an outbreak is not one that is contracted with the school system.

“I also want to give kudos to our county health department,” Hess said. “They are diligent, working long into the evening to do contact tracing once a school employee or student has a positive test.”

Hess also informed the Board that the state filtering system was causing issues with speed of technology access for many students. Study is being conducted on the possibility of the county purchasing its own filtering system.

In the recognition portion of the meeting, the Board honored the retirement of paraprofessional and aide, Cathy Pitts, who retired from Ripley Elementary with 18 years of service.

In other business, board members Mize, Chancey, Frazier, and Barnette, with Bobbi Ferrell attending by phone:

• Learned that the food program will continue until the end of the school year

• Teachers trained in Project Lead the Way will be working with students on projects in engineering and computers

• Approved an agreement with US Ecology for an amount not to exceed $10,257 to collect and remove materials from a Ripley High School science lab

• Had a second review of policies that will be voted upon at the next regular meeting

In personnel:

Resignations: Becky Jo Hancock, secretary Ravenswood Middle; R. Kevin McClung, freshman boys basketball coach Ripley High; Thomas Kruk, assistant archery coach and Teresa Gump, archery coach Ripley High

Transfers: Teresa Miller from bus operator Route #28 to Route #27 effective Jan. 25, 2021; Mary Conger from Cook III Ravenswood High to cafeteria manager/cook III Gilmore Elementary

Employments: Amanda Shaffer, teacher special education multi-categorical with autism Ripley Elementary; Victoria Allender, restricted substitute teacher Evans Elementary; Danielle M. Fisher, substitute teacher; Jessica Cox, yearbook advisor Ripley Middle; R. Kevin McClung, assistant boys freshman basketball coach Ripley High

Other: Kay E. Roush-Smith, art teacher Ripley High, medical leave of absence until Jan. 22, 2021; Angela Curfman, speech/language pathologist Gilmore Elementary, medical leave of absence for remainder of school year; Certified coaches - Steve Hunt, boys varsity basketball and Audrey Blackburn, girls basketball, Ripley High; Lance Morrison, boys basketball Ravenswood Middle; Samantha Parsons, cheerleading and Ryan Varney, boys basketball, Ripley Middle; Mary E. Hunt, girls basketball Ravenswood High; After school tutoring/detention Gilmore, Ripley Middle, Ripley Elementary and mentor teacher list can be found at boe.jack.k12.wv.us

A special board meeting to consider the 2021-22 school calendar will be at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 at the board office. The next regular meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Nov. 5, also at the board office.