The West Virginia Dept. of Education outlined statewide recommendations and guidelines for the reopening of schools in their School Reentry Toolkit published Wednesday.

While Hampshire County is still in the middle of developing a county-specific plan, the more guidance from the state, the better. The toolkit, a 25-page document on the WVDE website, details the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about getting kids back in school.

“Until we are able to return to a more traditional, long-term school schedule, we will have to take the necessary steps to guard our health,” said State Superintendent Clayton Burch. “This toolkit will assist in these efforts.”

Will children be required to wear masks? How will transportation work? What about meals? These are all questions that are answered in the toolkit and, while they may not be Hampshire County-specific, they can give the county school board and reentry task force an idea of how to model the reopening.

With Gov. Jim Justice’s mandate of masks in public for children 9 and older, it begs the question of the necessity of masks in the classroom. Protocols for masks detailed in the toolkit require that all staff wear masks or face coverings when instruction can’t be provided in a socially distant manner, and students in 3rd grade and up are required to wear masks when outside their core classroom group or in congested areas.

Of course, students with medical conditions that prohibit them from having their faces covered are exempt from this rule, including students with respiratory issues, mental health conditions or disabilities.

Many businesses that have reopened have used social distance markers on the floor of their buildings to remind folks to keep 6 feet between each other, and schools will implement the same practices, the toolkit described.

Visitors entering the school buildings will be screened and have their temperature checked. This includes parents, volunteers and vendors. This screening will occur at the entrance of the schools or at the front offices.

Virus-aware transportation etiquette has also been put in place, with the toolkit noting that bus drivers are required to wear face coverings any time children are entering or exiting the bus. Frequently touched surfaces on the bus are to be disinfected before all routes. Students are not to sit more than 2 to a seat, and since sharing a seat eliminates the possibility for social distance, masks are strongly recommended.

The state also recommends that a system be put in place that seat siblings together if at all possible. Each individual school system is tasked with forming a plan for loading and unloading students safely, so the discussion around the start of school in Hampshire County will include transportation issues.

Mealtimes at schools in the Mountain State will have a different look and feel than before as well. The cafeterias must not be filled past 50 percent capacity, and longer meal periods may be implemented in order for a staggered meal delivery.

Other mealtime considerations are individually packaged drinks, eliminated self-service stations and in-classroom dining practices whenever possible.

Additional topics explained by the state in the document are cleaning practices within the schools, mental health resources and considerations for handling suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school.

The Hampshire County school board will see a finalized plan for the return to school on July 15, said Superintendent Jeff Pancione at the July 6 board meeting.

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