Kanawha County public school students whose families chose to send them back to in-person classes will start attending five days per week on Monday.
Children were to spend this week and next on a “blended” schedule, with in-person students in classrooms two days per week and learning three days online only. That allowed for more social distancing because only half of in-person students would be in classrooms for two days, with the other half attending two other days.
Kanawha Board of Education members previously had said they were leaning toward sticking with that schedule for longer than two weeks.
County schools Superintendent Tom Williams had told them that, if students returned to five days a week, social distancing would be impossible in some places. The county provided, and still provides, an online-only option for students, but many families didn’t take it.
School board member Tracy White had said that, “personally, you know, I wasn’t expecting this many [students to register] to come back in person. A lot of teachers are speaking up saying they have just too many students in the classroom.”
But, on Monday evening — the first day of the blended schedule because it was the first day the state allowed Kanawha to reopen classrooms — she made a motion at the board meeting to return to five days a week in person starting this coming Monday.
She mentioned how excited children were at Kanawha City Elementary when she saw them return to school Monday morning of this week, and she said she saw them learning social distancing.
Board members Becky Jordon and Ryan White (no relation to Tracy White) joined her to approve the motion. The other two members, Ric Cavender and Jim Crawford, voted no.
“People keep saying, ‘Well, we need to go blended for a little bit of time until things get better,’” Ryan White said. “When’s that going to get better? We’re not at a point where we can see when that’s going to get better. We need to learn to live with COVID. We need to learn to live with COVID when there’s five days a week of instruction because of the kids that cannot participate in online classes,” he said.
Crawford and Cavender argued for staying with the blended schedule for at least another week.
“We’re not in the classrooms every day,” Cavender said, noting what the board doesn’t know at this point.
Ryan White said, “It’s already starting to get better, and I think we need to continue to be vigilant.”
Cavender replied, “It’s starting to get better, yes. But one reason why is because we haven’t had hundreds of students sharing an indoor space at one time.
“So we don’t know, that’s why I feel like, [with] a two-week evaluation period, we could at least see if anything changes over the next two weeks. I thought that was one reason we agreed on it to begin with.”
The vote came after school employee union representatives urged them not to go to five days.
“Please do not even consider five full days of instruction,” said Dinah Adkins, co-president of the county’s arm of the National Education Association union. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with the blended.”
“There is absolutely zero chance you could social distance in a classroom, there’s no way,” said Allen Stump, a multi-county representative of the same union.