Parents of Kanawha County public school students have until Tuesday to choose from among radically different fall school options for their children.
Here are some questions answered — as much as they can be — about the state’s school reopening plans. Information specific to Kanawha is noted throughout.
Most information comes from written plans and the governor’s news conferences. Officials are quoted for additional information.
When will schools reopen?
Schools are required to reopen Sept. 8.
Will all counties reopen?
Yes, at least online.
In-person? That’s less clear.
Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday a color-coded plan that could force schools to return to remote-only education based on metrics not yet disclosed.
Counties permitted to reopen in-person might not immediately.
Kanawha students are asked to show up one day in the first week for orientation. Different grades show up different days. Online-only students are not required to attend. Friday, Sept. 11, will be online-only for all students.
The following two weeks, half of Kanawha students enrolled in in-person education will attend for two days and learn virtually three days. The other half will attend two different days and learn virtually three. Students will be split in two groups alphabetically by last name. Further details have not been announced.
Starting Sept. 28 for K-12 students who choose the option, Kanawha plans in-person schooling five days a week. Fridays for prekindergarten will be for home visits, conferences and planning.
Are private schools required to follow state Department of Education safety requirements?
“We’re still working on that,” Justice said.
Education Department spokeswoman Christy Day said state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch doesn’t have jurisdiction over private schools. The governor has not mandated they follow the department’s rules.
What are my child’s options?
- In-person instruction: Five days a week or fewer, depending on what each county is offering.
- Online-only instruction: Either through the state’s virtual school program or a county-specific virtual program where available.
- Private school
- Home school
Do attendance and truancy laws apply?Yes.
Will enough employees show up to schools for in-person education?
It’s unknown at this time.
“I’ve not ever felt that that ‘what if’ is actually anything serious,” Burch said. “The majority of teachers I’m talking to are absolutely anxious to get back and support our children.”
What are the differences between the online options?
Despite the following terms seeming synonymous, they are not the same.
- Remote: This refers to the mandated distance education that only would come into play if the governor orders a school or county to pause in-person instruction.
- eLearning: This is a Kanawha-specific online learning option. Other counties might offer something similar.
eLearning relies on Kanawha teachers and the Schoology online system. In most cases, these would be the same teachers that students would’ve had in-person.
This would be the lone option for Kanawha students if the governor mandates remote learning. Parents can choose this path from the outset. It is available to all students.
It will involve live online instruction, but it’s unclear how much.
“This will be dependent upon grade level,” said Briana Warner, Kanawha’s spokeswoman. “At the elementary level, there may only be two hours of direct instruction and then additional time for smaller groups or conferences. At the higher levels, it will follow their normal school schedule much more closely and they’ll be required to log in for their classes.
“Some schools may offer paper packets and parents/students [at any level] can always download and print assignments out of Schoology.”
Daily attendance is required and daily activity expected. Parents must confirm that internet is available during the day. Teacher support only will be available during the school day.
“Parents will need to be involved and engaged in the eLearning experience, especially at the elementary level,” Kanawha’s plan says.
Students in grades 3-12 are given an iPad. It’s unclear whether younger students will receive the devices. Apple products are not required to participate.
n Virtual: The separate “virtual” option in Kanawha and elsewhere is connected to the state program. These classes are often taught by Florida teachers.
In Kanawha, the classes might be taught by county or West Virginia teachers.
This option is self-paced, though Kanawha’s site says students must complete courses by the end of the semester on Jan. 15.
This option is available to K-12 students. All Kanawha students using this option will be provided an iPad.
Will everyone have internet access?
Justice announced Wednesday 1,000 free internet connectivity locations.
He said these locations would include all K-12 schools, plus many colleges, libraries and state parks.
The Education Department said all 1,000 “already offer some level of connectivity” and money will go to boost or broadcast the WiFi beyond walls at those sites. People could pick it up in the parking lot, for instance.
Justice said bus transportation would be provided, but the head of the union representing many bus drivers has said there’s a driver shortage. Burch said the same in a conversation before last week.
Kanawha schools Superintendent Tom Williams said the district applied for a grant to provide families WiFi hotspots. He also said the county is planning to upgrade the WiFi speed on buses that can be parked in communities.
“Parents should check with their cell phone company,” Kanawha’s plan says. “Many of them are offering hotspot service for free or low cost for students who may be affected by lack of internet during this time.”
Suddenlink offers low cost or free internet to “those who may qualify due to need.” Those interested may call 844-358-3147 or visit alticeadvantageinternet.com.
Will this resemble remote learning in the spring?
Williams said it will not. The state superintendent said he’s looking for more accountability and statewide standardized tests might resume.
“There will not be an option for extra-credit or assignments not counting,” Kanawha’s plan says.
Have teachers been trained for online education?
Regarding teachers in the self-paced “virtual” option, the state says yes.
Regarding other teachers, like those assigned to county-specific “eLearning” programs such as Kanawha’s, perhaps not.
State and county officials said they have provided optional training. The state offered a “Professional Learning Forum” and the recorded sessions are available on a website.
“Teachers’ contracts do not begin until Aug. 19,” Warner said, “so nothing can be mandatory until that time.”
The district has offered voluntary training throughout the summer and daily webinars are recorded.
Can my online students participate in sports and other extracurricular and afterschool programs?
Transportation is a lingering question.
If the governor pauses in-person instruction, sports stop.
Online students in Kanawha can participate in afterschool extracurricular activities. Classes such as art, music and choir will be available via eLearning. The Third Base afterschool program is open only to in-person students.
What are the safety precautions on buses?
A maximum of two students per seat is permitted, unless they are all siblings.
The state lacks enough buses to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline of one student per seat with skipped rows. Kanawha will require students to wear face coverings. The state is recommending that but not requiring it. The state will require drivers to wear face masks or shields while students board and disembark.
Will masks be required in schools?
The state allows for multiple exceptions, including a broad one for middle and high schoolers to not have to wear them if social distancing can be maintained.
“Face coverings are required of all staff when they cannot provide instruction in a socially distanced manner,” the state’s plan says.
Will there be social distancing?
The state is requiring markings in schools to remind students to stay 6 feet apart.
Kanawha says class sizes depend on how many students choose online-only.
“Based on community feedback, we believe that the number of students present at a school will be low enough for social distancing,” the district’s plan says. “Individual schools are coming up with plans should a class or classes be too large for social distancing.”
Will there be mandatory COVID-19 testing for students and staff?
The state isn’t requiring it.
Will parents be notified of positive cases?
In Kanawha, yes. The district will work with local health authorities to notify families while maintaining compliance with federal student privacy laws.
What happens if a case is identified in a school?
The governor said it hasn’t been decided whether a particular number of infections would shutter a school.
Kanawha’s plan says that “if cases spike in one school, one community or the district, the school or district will close for a period of at least two weeks and all of those in-person students will resort to eLearning automatically.”
“Spike” isn’t defined.
What about meals?
Almost every public school student is eligible for free school meals.
But it’s unclear how online-only students would get the food, especially if they lack transportation.
“I will promise you, beyond belief, that we will get our kids fed,” Justice said. He hasn’t explained how.
Forty-three of West Virginia’s 55 counties, including Kanawha, offer free meals to all public schoolers.
Ten more counties have one or more schools that can serve everyone free meals. Only Monongalia and Putnam counties have no such schools.
Kanawha has said that only online students will have a meal pick-up option at four or five sites.
Kanawha will deliver meals to bus stops if Justice orders in-person instruction to cease.
The county’s plan says in-person meals might be served in cafeterias, outside and in classrooms. Cafeterias are limited statewide to no more than 50% capacity.
Want more info on Kanawha’s options, or ready to pick your child’s path?