CHARLES TOWN – About 40 percent of Jefferson County public school students will avoid classrooms to learn exclusively online when the new school year begins Sept. 8.
Parents have chosen the virtual learning option during the coronavirus outbreak for more than 3,600 students, Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson reported during a school board meeting on Monday. Last year more than 8,900 students were enrolled in the school system.
Gibson said 972 requests have been received so far from parents to borrow school laptops for students who will be instructed online from home.
More than 670 low-income families have also signed up to receive government-funded home meals from the school system, she said.
Parents had until last Wednesday to decide whether to send their children back to classrooms or keep their children at home to complete their lessons and coursework on a virtual learning platform.
“We’ve created a master spreadsheet—grade by grade, school by school, how many students in virtual, how many students on-site, how many teachers … have requested to teach virtually versus requested to teach on-site,” Gibson said. “And we are undergoing the massive Jenga puzzle of placing all of those individuals with teachers where they’re to be.”
Whatever option parents chose, because of the complexities of organizing both online and in-class schedules, cannot be changed until a semester break in November. Gibson said requests from some parents asking to change their selection for either on-site or remote learning for their children will be evaluated later after the school system completes its logistical scheduling.
“For right now, you are guaranteed the choice that you made by the deadline,” she said.
Meanwhile, school officials have continued to adjust the district’s reopening plans and procedures in response to a stream of steadily changing directives from state health and school officials, including changes made as late as Monday. State education officials provided a new document incorporating Gov. Jim Justice’s color-coded warning system that includes how and when schools are expected to respond to coronavirus exposures in different situations.
Those documents are posted online for parents and the public to study, Gibson said. More additions to the protocols related to special education students should take place soon, she said.
“We’ve already begun to get some questions regarding when individuals have to quarantine based on exposure,” Gibson said, “and this does a good job of defining those across the state for everyone so that there’s some clarity.”
The governor’s four-color code system outlines different protocols of mask-wearing and social distancing that schools must follow when students or teachers test positive for a coronavirus infection.
The system also addresses how school districts should react to escalating community-wide infection rates, including the highest red-coded level of 25 or more active infections for every 100,000 residents.
School buildings will close under a code red scenario, and all students will take up virtual learning from home.
“We’ve actually been looking at these to make sure that we have our own internal tracking process to cover these,” Gibson said. “If 5 percent of the students or staff have confirmed outbreaks in a 14-day period, then all students and staff at that location … in that school would go to remote learning.”
Earlier during the school board meeting, Jennifer Vigil of Charles Town, a mother to three children in the school system, spoke during a public comment period about how the school system has not been notifying parents when the coronavirus safety protocols have changed.
Vigil, who worked as a substitute teacher for the school system during the last school year, said she had trouble receiving a timely response from school officials about mask-wearing requirements that would apply to her son who has asthma.
“If no one speaks up then issues and concerns are not known,” Vigil told school board members. “I am a voice speaking for many. I ask as a parent that you listen and take to heart all parent concerns.”
After pressing school officials for answers, “instead of getting answers,” Vigil said she received a notice that she would not be hired again this year as a substitute teacher.
After Vigil spoke during the school board meeting, Gibson made adjustments to update a list of proposed personnel hirings and employee position changes for the upcoming school year, including a change to strike Vigil from the list to work as a substitute teacher this school year.
The school board approved those hiring changes and the final list without discussion.