Despite previous plans, Kanawha County’s public school system may not be able to start in-person classes for the foreseeable future.
And once it does start them, it may stick with fewer than five days per week of in-person instruction for longer.
“It is on the agenda for Tuesday,” county Board of Education member Tracy White said of that discussion and possible vote. That meeting will be 4 p.m. Tuesday at the school system’s headquarters, 200 Elizabeth St., in Charleston.
“Personally, you know, I wasn’t expecting this many [students] to come back in-person,” she said. “A lot of teachers are speaking up saying they have just too many students in the classroom.”
More students going in-person rather than joining the online-only paths makes social distancing harder. She said middle schools are seeing 25-26 students per class.
Kanawha has been orange on the state’s color-coded school reopening map at least since Saturday.
Orange doesn’t generally mean a county can’t have in-person instruction. The catch is that a county can’t start in-person instruction next week, when the school year begins statewide, if it’s in orange in this coming Saturday’s update.
“Let’s be honest,” school board member Ryan White (no relation to Tracy) told fellow board members Thursday. “We’re gonna be orange on Saturday.”
Counties in orange Saturday can’t begin in-person classes until at least the following Saturday. If the county still isn’t green or yellow then, it must wait until the next Saturday, and so on until it gets to yellow or green.
The threshold for turning from yellow to orange is having a daily average, over the past seven days, of 10 or more new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.
Kanawha’s average was 14.04 as of Wednesday, the highest at least since Aug. 27, according to figures posted by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department reported a daily rate for Thursday alone of about 20 new cases per 100,000, so that will increase the average.
The school system had planned to start baby stepping toward resuming in-person classes next week.
The board voted Aug. 3 to have just one in-person orientation day next week for students whose families chose to send them back in-person. Different grades, under that plan, would be oriented on different days.
That would be followed by two weeks in which only half of the in-person students would attend two days per week, with the other half attending on two different days, and with all doing online learning on the off days. Superintendent Tom Williams said last names beginning A-L would attend Monday and Tuesday, and M-Z would attend Thursday and Friday.
Then, five days of in-person instruction would begin near the end of September.
Now, if the county is orange Saturday, online-only learning for all will start Tuesday.
Board member Ric Cavender said one of his sons’ schools, Chamberlain Elementary, had one-on-one orientations for online-only students Monday at the school, even though that was before the orientation week.
Cavender said his other son, in middle school and also going online-only, hasn’t yet had such an orientation.
“They went through the whole process with us,” Cavender said of the orientation. He asked whether all other students would be given a similar introduction if the school system must start with online-only instruction.
Williams replied that there are videos on kcs.kana.k12.wv.us to explain how to use the Schoology online learning platform, and he said “the schools will be working with the parents and the kids next week as we get devices [computers] out, assuming we’re not in school.”
Cavender said he supports sticking with the two in-person days a week plan for the foreseeable future once in-person learning can restart.
“We didn’t know how severe the cases were going to get, and we’re noticing an uptick again, it’s looking so unpredictable that my thoughts are we need to set up our students for success in an unpredictable environment,” he said.
He said the original plan to only start with two days a week was in hopes the numbers would decrease.
“We’re not seeing that,” he said. “And if you’re throwing, you know, 400 students into a building, even if you are following all the guidelines — and I think they will be — there’s still risk there.”