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Brooke County Board of Education weighs pandemic response

IMPACT FELT — The impact of the coronavirus on schools and their extracurricular activities was a recurring subject at Monday’s Brooke County school board meeting. (Photo by Warren Scott)

WELLSBURG — The impact of COVID-19 was felt by the Brooke County Board of Education Monday as members weighed action on three matters affected by it.

The board agreed that next month all schools may expand in-person instruction to four days a week with the exception of Brooke Middle School, where two staff members and a pupil recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

Following that discovery, school officials announced on Saturday the middle school will be closed through Nov. 6, with its pupils receiving virtual instruction until then.

Mike Bolen, administrator of the Brooke County Health Department has stated staff and pupils from the school need not self-quarantine unless they have been contacted by the department. But he added parents should closely monitor their children for symptoms of the virus, as all parents should do at this time.

The expansion to four days followed the recommendation of Superintendent Jeffrey Crook and the board’s re-entry committee, which is headed by Stephanie Blundon, director of student services.

On Monday Blundon told the board the committee carefully considered whether to proceed with the plan for all students to report to school on Nov. 2.

Currently about half of each school’s enrollment attends on two days and the other half on two other days, with all engaging in virtual learning on the remaining three days. Parents of some students have chosen for their children to participate in online education throughout the week.

Blundon said the combination of in-person and virtual instruction for students has some benefits, including the greater individual attention received by students in the current smaller classes.

But she added it’s also felt that students perform better when receiving more face-to-face instruction.

Blundon said the schools currently have enough face coverings for students through at least January while plexiglass carrols will be used to separate students when they return to fuller classrooms.

Crook noted the first two weeks when students return will actually be three-day weeks because schools will be closed on Election Day and Veterans Day.

But he stressed caution will be taken as schools move forward with the four-day plan.

Crook said earlier in the year he was aware of a staff member who required three months to recover from the virus while another was better after three days.

“If we do the four days, we’re going to isolate every single situation,” he told the board.

Blundon said under state guidelines, more than two cases of COVID-19 at a school constitutes an outbreak.

In related business, the board heard from Angel Snyder, one of several parents of Brooke Middle School cheerleaders who asked the board to allow the squad to compete in a regional competition Saturday at the Wheeling Civic Arena.

Snyder and others noted that under present guidelines for the sport, pyramids and stunts in which cheerleaders would touch each other are out, while the squad never has contact with competing teams as in other sports.

Board members noted the seasons of other fall sports at the middle school have been ended through a region-wide cancelation ordered by leaders of their athletic conference.

But Athletic Director Sean Blumette noted the move hasn’t affected Saturday’s event or another competition that was moved from Oct. 24 to Nov. 14 following cases of COVID-19 at other schools in the region.

Board members agreed to allow the squad to compete provided its 15 members undergo rapid tests for the virus prior to competing. They added such tests will be at the cheerleaders’ families’ expense and through their own arrangement.

Board member Dr. E. Robert Marks warned the rapid tests, while capable of providing results in the required timeframe, also have been known to result in false positives.

Board President Ted Pauls was among members who expressed sympathy for the squad, saying he hopes competing will allow them some measure of normalcy in an abnormal year.

Blumette and Dee Parr, the school district’s treasurer; also approached the board for about $127,000 for various expenses for the school’s winter and spring sports.

Parr noted admission to the schools’ football games normally help to fund the other sports, but this year’s ticket sales yielded about $17,000 compared to about $62,000 last year. She and Blumette added admission to the other sports, which normally averages about $20,000, is expected to be much less this year.

Blumette said the sports programs also have lost thousands of dollars they normally would generate through special events and other fundraisers that were canceled because of attendance restrictions.

He said the programs need funds for uniforms, equipment, officials’ fees and pay for people who man the ticket stands, among many other expenses.

Parr said it may be possible to allocate federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds awarded to the school district for the costs.

The board voted 3-2 to approve the funds, with Pauls, Marks and Antoinette Perkins supporting it.

Board members Chris Byers and Stacy Hooper, while indicating some support for the sports, voted against, noting they’d prefer to know the C.A.R.E.S. Act money can be used at a time when the school district is under financial watch by the state.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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