Wise County school officials stunned by proposed cuts

WISE — Unless they opt for at-home virtual instruction, Wise County Public Schools students head back to in-person classes Sept. 28 after a 7-1 School Board vote.

The board’s decision followed a recessed meeting Monday that followed confusion at a Sept. 15 meeting on how many students would be on buses and in classrooms and how that would affect social distancing guidelines.

Board member Vicky Williams was the lone no vote against bringing students back Monday through Thursday and having students stay at home on Friday. Teachers would also come back for a work day on Sept. 25 in preparation for return to classes and would hold virtual office hours with students and parents from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on subsequent Fridays.

The new return plan will last at least through Oct. 19 — the end of the first nine weeks of the semester — unless the board votes to modify school schedules. Mullins said.

Students have been on at-home virtual instruction for four weeks and will complete a fifth virtual week before returning.

Board member Donnese Kern, voting yes on the return, said she would vote on in-person classes if case rates increased in county schools again.

Board members did not mention a brief change Monday on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which advised that the novel coronavirus — the cause of COVID-19 infections — could spread airborne further than 6 feet between people. That guideline was removed from cdc.gov later in the day.

Schools Superintendent Greg Mullins said that students, faculty and staff in the county’s 13 schools would have to wear masks at all time — unless 6 feet or more apart — when in classrooms, moving to different areas in school facilities or riding school buses.

Mullins said school officials have learned during meetings with state health department officials in recent days that infection rates among the public and school personnel have dropped. The matter that caused board members to recess the meeting last week — how many parents and teachers want to see a return to in-person classes — after a failed vote to return to school was answered by Mullins and schools Technology Director Scott Kiser.

A plurality of elementary parents surveyed, 2,288, favored a four-day in-person school week, Mullins said, while a plurality of high school parents favored a hybrid A-B in-person schedule where students would be split into two groups and attend two days a week.

Mullins said parents can opt to have their students remain on virtual instruction

Kern asked what would happen if a parent sent their child to school despite them having COVID-19 symptoms. Mullins said the county health department could get involved depending on the number of people exposed and their proximity to a potentially infected student.

The health department would also notify parents and staff of possible exposure to an infected person but not the person’s identity.

Teachers also will report to their schools at 7:30 on class days to prepare to take students’ temperatures on arrival, Mullins said.