Kanawha County Schools continuing with 5 days of instruction

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Despite ongoing concerns regarding student and teacher safety, Kanawha County Schools will continue with five days of face-to-face instruction.

The Kanawha County Board of Education voted Oct. 5 to begin the lesson plan this past Monday, dropping a second planned week of blended classes. The board in August voted for two weeks of instruction through a blended model once in-person classes could begin.

Last week’s 3-2 vote was met with opposition from local educators, including Jay O’Neal, the treasurer of the Kanawha County Education Association.

“We were eager to see how things would plan out county-wide. We believed our board when they said we would do blended for two weeks, then look at the data and see how things are going before deciding on the next steps,” he said before board members. “You can imagine how teachers felt when the board voted to suddenly send us back to a full five-day schedule without even waiting to see how blended learning was going.”

Kanawha County rates gold on the state Department of Education’s coronavirus map, which the department will update on Saturday. The county is a lower rank — yellow — on the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ map released Thursday.

O’Neal, a teacher at West Side Middle School, said teachers are frustrated about the unclear rules regarding learning methods, noting the flexibility of having students switch from virtual lessons to in-person classes.

“It’s telling that tonight, we’ve been told social distancing will be observed in this room, limiting the number of people inside while also being told if social distancing can’t be achieved in our classrooms, it’s OK as long as everyone is wearing a mask,” he said.

Union Co-President Dinah Adkins said members are concerned about the challenges of social distancing.

“The accommodations needed for many of our teachers are being threatened by the influx of in-person students. It’s time to hire teachers to reduce class size,” she said.

Superintendent Tom Williams said the school system is limiting the number of students who can switch to face-to-face instruction because of the lack of space.

“Unless it’s an extreme circumstance, we will not be moving anyone else until (the spring) semester,” he said.

Board member Ric Cavender asked if classrooms were full, to which Williams responded by saying most were full.

“When we see an issue, when a principal reports an issue, we deal with the issue,” the superintendent added.

Williams noted concerns he has received regarding how school employees are notified about cases; the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is assisting in notifying school officials about a positive case, in which administrators are responsible for talking with the employee about other people they may have contacted.

According to Williams, work on the spring semester schedule will begin in November.