FAIRMONT — The Marion County Board of Education voted Monday to allow students to choose between two models of education come the beginning of school Sept. 8.
Parents or guardians of students can choose for their students to attend school for two days a week, while getting three days of remote learning, or choose for a full-time distance learning model, where they attend school for five days.
“I feel that it’s the safest one that is also considered to be safe by our local health officials who are helping us make our decisions,” said Randy Farley, superintendent of Marion County Schools. “So if we have to offer an in-person model, which at this point we’re told we have to offer one, then that’s the safest one being recommended for us to offer, because it will have smaller groups.”
According to Farley, students who opt into the in-person learning model will attend school for two days a week, and their attendance would be staggered with other students who choose the same model. Students who are in the distance learning model will continue with remote learning, just as they did in the spring when coronavirus shut down schools.
“One cohort of students would come Monday, Tuesday — Wednesday would be the day no students are there and they do the deep clean,” Farley said. “Thursday, Friday would be the other cohorts who come. We’re going to do that by last name ‘A’ through ‘L,’ and ‘N’ through ‘Z.’”
The vote of the Board of Education was 4-1, with members James Saunders, Tom Dragich, Richard Pellegrin and Board President Mary Jo Thomas voting for the motion, and Donna Costello voting against the motion. Costello applauded the team that came up with this plan, but said she could not vote on a model that still has health risks involved.
“In my head, if you have that one student who goes back home who is living with their grandparents and they have exposed that grandparent and something happens to that grandparent, then what happens to that child,” she said. “I took in all the conversation, I took in all the information that I could. I would rather side on caution.”
Pellegrin said he would vote yes for the motion, believing that this is the best plan possible for the situation the school district has been put in.
“This plan is the best plan that we have the authority to vote on,” he said. “The only thing we can do is listen to our health care professionals.”
The other board members agreed, and Saunders said the work done by the central school office should be commended.
“I kind of feel like a referee, but this time instead of blowing a whistle and getting half the people liking me and half the people hating me, there’s probably three standards now,” Saunders said. “I’ve had a lot of calls, as all the board members have I’m sure of people wanting their own different versions.”
Dragich said it is a difficult concept to vote on, but the end result of all of these changes could lead to improvements in education as a whole.
“I think there’s going to be some good things will come out if we get through all this,” Dragich said. “I look forward to seeing some of the things that some of the programs that our curriculum department has used.”
Thomas said the choice came down to the viability of the model put together by the school administration.
“We’re all in the same bus, as are all the people here, and that is safety for all,” Thomas said. “Everybody has given this their best possible effort.”
Farley reiterated that the board also has plans in place for transporting students to and from school, whether they have an emergency situation or their plans change during the year.
On Monday morning, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced in his virtual COVID briefing that he would have an announcement regarding education on Wednesday. In response, the Marion County BOE planned to potentially hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at East Fairmont High to talk about changes, if the Governor’s announcement calls for it.
“We are practicing what we preach and being fluid and flexible,” Thomas said. “We are all concerned for the best quality education in Marion County.”