School officials practice flexibility as the 1st day of class approaches

Teachers will need to be flexible. The school board will need to be flexible. Students will need to be flexible.

Hampshire County itself will need to be flexible, and the back-to-school guidance from the state only cemented that fact. 

A few things are for certain right now: Hampshire County will be returning to the “normal” 5-day, in-person school week when school begins Aug. 23, Superintendent Jeff Pancione maintained, with a return to “pre-Covid” virtual options (the virtual option only available for select electives, AP courses without a certified instructor on hand or courses not available here).

“Our students learn and are more successful in a classroom environment with an in-person instructor,” he said.

Additionally, the school system here is now fully-staffed with social workers to help address the social, mental and emotional needs of students who might be experiencing anxiety with the transition back to in-person school.

One of the top questions concerning having the students back in the classrooms is about ­– you guessed it – masking up.

At a press conference last week, state superintendent Clayton Burch passed the responsibility of the mask versus no mask decision to county officials, saying, “Be prepared to pivot. If you feel you need it, wear a mask.”

Pancione revealed the county’s current mask situation at Thursday’s board meeting.

“Face covers will be recommended but not required for all individuals inside a Hampshire County school building and outside on school property where social distance cannot be maintained,” Pancione explained. “Especially for our unvaccinated staff and students. Mask requirements and other safety requirements will remain fluid and monitored.”

Of course, the term “flexibility” pops up again here, because as the school year goes on, guidance from the state might require a little pivoting on the school board’s part.

“We may have to make tough decisions, or we may be directed from local, state and national (officials) to make those decisions,” Pancione warned, but added that the schools will continue to work closely with the health department to make sure the students and staff are as safe as possible.

Last week, Burch also revealed West Virginia’s full back to school “recovery” guidance, detailing what this back to school season will entail, including continuation of the 6 Covid-19 mitigation strategies that were implemented last school year: rigorous cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene and coughing/sneezing etiquette, evaluating large gatherings outside of the classroom (assemblies, etc.), social distancing, face coverings where appropriate and contact tracing.

And, of course, the 2021-22 school year has an additional mitigation strategy: the vaccine, which Burch called the “most important” mitigation strategy.

Students and staff who are unvaccinated will need to quarantine for up to 14 days if they’ve been in close contact with a person who tested positive for the virus.

Vaccinated folks will not have to quarantine, as long as they remain symptom-free.  Board vice president Ed Morgan added that the schools are not “strong-arming” anyone into doing anything. The safety of students is the utmost priority.

“We are all adults,” Morgan said. “and we have children in our charge.”

Board member Dee Dee Rinker added, “We always have to consider their safety first.”

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