Greenbrier County Schools announces there will be no snow days for the 2020-2021 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual town hall meeting held on Facebook Live in conjunction with health officials from the Robert C. Byrd Clinic.
The purpose of the event, held on September 3, was to provide general health information ahead of next week’s scheduled school opening in Greenbrier County. It was also an opportunity for parents and students to ask specific questions regarding the readiness of county schools to address and mitigate any potential COVID-19 related concerns. Those in attendance for the event were Dr. Kathleen Martin, Chair of Pediatrics at the Robert C. Byrd Clinic, Jeff Bryant, Greenbrier County Superintendent of Schools, and Paula McCoy, Lead School Nurse for Greenbrier County, among others.
Once each member of the panel had introduced themselves, they moved immediately into answering questions provided in real-time by viewers. The first question, which was fielded by Dr. Martin, was an inquiry as to the appropriate age for a child to be before wearing a mask. Dr. Martin’s response was directly in-line with the guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Any child who is above the age of two, who is otherwise healthy, should be able to habituate to wearing a mask. What that means, is if the mask properly fits, like mine is now, not shifting or moving as I talk, then the child should be able to safely wear it,” Dr. Martin said. “We know that masks do not decrease our oxygenation. Masks don’t decrease our ability to breathe at all, in fact. Yes, they can be a little uncomfortable to get used to. Now, school-age children should all be able to wear a mask. That’s my opinion, and that’s the opinion of the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
Dr. Martin further advised that parents should spend some time getting their children used to wearing masks by introducing them in gradually increasing increments. She also mentioned that decorating the mask can help children become more comfortable with the idea of wearing them.
“Sometimes people ask me ‘what about children with neuro-developmental delays?’ So, children who they may worry are not cognitively able to remove the mask,” Dr. Martin continued. “So if a child with significant musculo-skeletal issues can’t safely remove their own mask, they should probably not wear a mask. Now if you’re wondering if they should go to public school without the mask, that’s a very personal decision. I recommend that you talk to your doctor about that, to make sure health-wise they’re able to do that in a way that isn’t going to put them or others in danger. What about children with autism, or children who have sensory issues…for the most part, again, according to the developmental specialist, (State Health Officer) who is someone who deals with this on a regular basis, a lot of those children can be taught early-on. But we know that’s going to be a very hard thing to do for some of you. And so, rather than expect blanket-exemptions for children with special-needs, we expect to have discussions with our primary care provider about that.”
Another viewer submitted a question regarding the new protocols surrounding bus-cleaning. This is of particular importance to residents in the more-rural parts of the county, as students in those areas rely heavily on busing.
School officials reported that there will be hand sanitizer-stations on every bus. Masks will be provided to students should they board the bus without one, and window-ventilation will be utilized as weather permits. Children who stand together at the bus stop will be permitted to sit together, and groups will be spread out accordingly. Bus drivers will be regularly wiping-down the seats with an anti-bacterial solution after each run. At the end of each day, buses will also be fogged with an electro-static sprayer. This will allow the disinfectant to wrap-around all surfaces, killing microorganisms beneath seats, and in other areas.
Clarification was provided regarding what types of masks will be acceptable. The simple answer was that any mask that covers the mouth and nose is acceptable, provided that the mask is two-ply. In the case of a student exhibiting Covid-like symptoms while at school, their parents will be immediately notified, and the child will be held in a secure area until their parents arrive. The child will then be escorted outside to be taken home.
Questions shifted slightly, become more academic-oriented.
School Superintendent Jeff Bryant spoke at length in response to these questions. According to Superintendent Bryant, approximately 65% of Greenbrier County students have opted for in-person learning. However, even those in physical-attendance should expect significant changes from previous years. One such change will be the lack of any official snow days. In the event of inclement weather, in-person students will simply participate in remote-learning for the day. The Superintendent reminded viewers that school is starting several days later this year. It will also conclude on May 31, 2021, approximately two-weeks earlier than recent years. Even with the condensed academic-year, schools must maintain the required 180 learning-days. The elimination of snow days, along with the adjusting of traditional breaks, will prevent schools from dropping below the required threshold.
Another important takeaway from the event, is that Greenbrier County will not be providing busing to transport students to WiFi access points. Any student needing to make use of such an area will need to provide their own transportation. However, all assigned work, regardless of grade level, can be completed offline.
Elementary School students will be given packets which will encompass the first 9-weeks of the school year. Middle and High School students will have their first 9-weeks worth of assignments downloaded directly onto their Chromebooks. And for younger students, school officials stressed that the packets children will be given are not at all the same as the quickly-assembled versions they received back in March. The expectation for remote-learners is that their experience will be very much like in-person learning.
Superintendent Bryant made it clear that he “cannot say 100% we can ensure everyone’s safety.” However, county school officials and medical professionals want every student to feel secure upon returning to school. And they are optimistic that the plan to reopen next week will keep them as protected as possible.
Unfortunately, only about 60 people attended the virtual Facebook Live event. But the video in its entirety can still be viewed by visiting the Robert C. Byrd Clinic Facebook page. Any further school-related questions should be directed to the Greenbrier County Board of Education at 304-647-6470.