BoE Approves COVID-19 Back To School Plan

The Greenbrier County Board of Education has approved a COVID-19 back to school plan.

The plan was approved on Wednesday, August 18, and mandates mask wearing for the beginning of the school year, which varies by class. Grades one through six and grade nine will return to school on August 30, and a full grade one through 12 return will follow on August 31. Pre-K and kindergarten will then return on September 9.

Many of the precautions put in place for the return to in-person classes in the previous year will return.

“We could not be more enthusiastic about welcoming students back to our classrooms for what we hope will be a much more normal school experience,” said Superintendent Jeff Bryant in a press release. “… We open this school year with a focus on collaborating with all stakeholders to accomplish a shared goal. That goal is to keep our schools open for learning, and our charge is to do what is necessary to keep our schools safe to achieve this goal. We understand we’ll have to remain flexible and ready to pivot as the COVID-19 and variant situation demands. Protecting the health and well-being of our students and staff will continue to be of the highest priority, with many of the preventive health protocols that we embraced last year remaining in place. This includes things like enhanced cleaning, daily checklist self-screening, managing traffic patterns in our hallways and at large gatherings, emphasizing good hygiene, contact tracing, quarantining, and facilitating vaccinations for those eligible to receive them.”

The plan includes a mask mandate for all personnel and students for the month of September. After October 1, masking will depend on the number of cases in the county. The plan explains:

– “Masks are required for all (students, staff, and visitors) through September regardless of vaccination status or current color-coded map status (unless prohibited by a documented medical condition).”

– “Beginning in October, mask protocol for each day will be determined by the color-coded WVDHHR County Alert Map indicator on the previous day. Principals will include the daily mask protocol in their school-day announcements for students and staff. After October 1, Green and Yellow map status [means] masks are optional for students, staff, and visitors, while Gold, Orange, or Red map status [means] masks are required by students, staff, and visitors.”

– “Per federal Department of Transportation regulations, masks must be worn on buses at all times. … Bus drivers will wear masks and/or face shields. If alone in a classroom or enclosed area, staff may temporarily remove their mask. Masks must be worn at all times when students or other staff members are present.”

– “Masks are not required when eating in assigned areas or during strenuous activity if it is outdoors where social distancing is possible.”

– “Parents are asked to provide the face mask for their child. If not available from home, the school will provide a face mask. Handmade two-layer face masks are acceptable. Gators must have two layers of fabric.”

“By masking through September, we are allowing time for COVID-19 infections that may be circulating after the State Fair and the Labor Day weekend to dissipate,” said Lead School Nurse Paula McCoy. “This also helps maintain a safer environment for our Pre-K and Kindergarten students who don’t start school until September 9. Exercising caution early on will pay off in the long run in terms of limiting viral illness (including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus) among students and staff and ultimately help us keep schools open.”

The plan does not include a vaccination mandate.

“Staff and students who are eligible to receive the vaccine are encouraged to do so. Vaccination is the leading prevention strategy to protect individuals from COVID-19 disease and end the COVID-19 pandemic. Current COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States are safe and effective, widely accessible in the U.S., and available at no cost to all people living in the U.S. Thus far the vaccines have also prevented severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to variants, especially by the current Delta variant that is spreading in the U.S.”

Social distancing is expected as well, “whenever practicable:”

– “Social distancing of at least 3 feet will be maintained. Schools may continue to exercise the following: desks facing in the same direction, seating students at tables facing the same direction or using table dividers, removing any non-essential furniture and materials to allow more space in classrooms, and adding tables in cafeteria areas to allow more spacing.”

– Each middle and high school will have a plan in place to limit and manage student traffic between classes.

If a case of COVID-19 is detected, it should be reported to the Greenbrier County Health Department (304-645-1787).

“Those who test positive (even without symptoms) are required to isolate for ten (10) days,” reads the plan. “If symptoms have resolved and the individual is free of fever for 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medication, return to school is permitted. … District COVID-19 contact persons are responsible for informing and working with the Greenbrier County Health Department to identify next steps and establish contact tracing efforts. There may be times when classrooms, wings, or buildings must be closed for cleaning and sanitizing due to a positive COVID-19 case or related concerns. There may also be situations when an unvaccinated student (or cohort of unvaccinated students who had close contact with a known positive COVID-19 case) will need to quarantine as directed by local health authorities. Parents may be contacted by the Greenbrier County Health Department or Greenbrier County Schools personnel if their student has been in close contact with a positive case and the next appropriate steps will be taken. Parents will be informed by the district of any modifications in school operations via phone, email, text, and the school and district website.”

The plan also addresses orders for full remote learning.

“Should state authorities mandate school closure, instruction will be delivered remotely with educators available via email or phone. In this instance, remote learning for all will be implemented. … Each school will communicate to families the date and time for students to pick up Remote Learning Lesson Packets (Pre-K-5) or to pick up devices and download Remote Learning Lessons (6-12). Students will receive any necessary textbooks and materials at this time. … Additionally, should the Governor determine that students will not return to in-person learning but that staff still report to work sites, school meals will be available for pick-up at each school on Wednesdays. Should staff be directed by the Governor not to report, five-day meal boxes will be available for pick-up at designated schools and community locations.”

The entire plan is available at greenbriercountyschools.org by clicking the “BACK TO SCHOOL 2021-2022” banner.

Following school board approval of the plan, School Board President Jeanie Wyatt said, “our board considered input from students, parents, and staff, in addition to the recommendations of national, state, and local health officials. Almost everyone agrees that keeping our schools open for full-time in-person learning is critically important for our students, parents, and community. Our plan requires masks for the first month. Still, it is flexible enough to respond to our community’s infection and positivity rates so that, after October 1, masks will be optional if our county is in the green or yellow category on the map.”

“Please note that the guidance in this document is subject to change as new data and additional information about the spread and prevention of COVID-19 becomes available,” Bryant wrote in the introduction to the plan. “… The well-being of Greenbrier County students and families and sincere dedication to providing the best education possible to our students have fueled the development of this plan for reopening our school system. As we prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, we do so with the knowledge that flexibility is the name of the game.”

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The Board of Education

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