Notes from Nicki “Can we place fear over education?"

As a parent of a child that loves school, wants to be in school and is struggling right now, I was saddened to hear that the Taylor County Board of Education voted to ignore the directive sent down from the West Virginia Board of Education. When they came out and approved a motion that students would be returning to in-person instruction for four or five days a week, I was relieved, knowing that our students would be in school a very minimum of two days per week. Two days a week is not nearly enough time for proper instruction and absorption of material, but it was better than the current remote learning, where children (and not all children) are condensing a class down to a 45-minute Teams meeting, of which time is being taken to take attendance and figure out how to get screens to share, among other things that are taking away from learning.

It is clear to me that distractions from the comfort of home are taking a toll on not only my son, but many other students, as I have discussed this very topic extensively with friends of mine. My child is a very bright boy. He has had straight A’s since school began. He has always been ahead in school, leading to his third-grade teacher suggesting that he be tested for gifted, and he was just shy of the mark. In fourth grade, he won Math Field Day for the county in his grade level. While in school for the first nine weeks of this year, he brought home straight A’s again, however that is not the case this nine weeks, and much of that is due to the fact that he has had limited in-person instruction. When I checked LiveGrades recently, I saw that he had a F in his science class, because he had missed one assignment. ONE. Luckily, he has a teacher that took notice of my child’s cognitive level and agreed to allow him to resubmit the material, stating that he was too smart of a student to accept a grade like that.

In another of my child’s classes, for a whole nine-week period, he only has three grades. Three grades. If he messes up or something happens that the teacher doesn’t receive his work, that brings his grade down drastically. For example, he has 100s on the two grades that are listed, but because the third grade has not been entered, and I know it was done and turned it, he had a D listed on Live Grades. This is unacceptable.

There are two problems here. The first, is that one assignment can tank a grade in a course, because having a steady flow of assignments as if students were still in class does not exist. Or students are on the other end of the spectrum and are loaded down with so many assignments that it makes it hard to get them all completed in a timely manner. The second and probably more concerning issues is that teachers are noticing students who normally perform at the top of the class are receiving less than stellar grades, and they are not doing anything to see what happened or if there is a problem preventing that child from performing to their typical level. If our children were in school, teachers would hold them accountable for poor work or a poor test score and would more than likely ask what happened that they received the lower grade. This isn’t happening with the current remote model.

Students need to be in school. We have heard it over and over from various sources. West Virginia’s top health officials have reported that it is safe for students to return to a classroom setting, yet the Taylor County Board of Education is refusing that. They are refusing a complete education for our children. They are refusing to let them interact with teachers and students, something that teaches them lifelong skills. They are refusing to let our children learn. Period. Plain and simple.

In addition, they are taking away the voice of so many parents in Taylor County who wish to have their children back in school. And, before anyone says that they don’t feel it is safe and they don’t want their kid in school, that’s fine. You are entitled to that. That is why the complete virtual option is still viable for you. However, the BOE has taken away a parent’s option to have their children in school. This isn’t right. There is currently a Facebook group, Parents for Taylor County WV Students Returning to School Full Time, where likeminded people can gather to voice their concerns and opinions about their child’s return to school. The group, spearheaded by Brittany Everett, has attended board meetings regularly to have their voices heard. Brittany has done her homework and reached out to WV Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh, who has voiced many times that students returning to a classroom is safe, seeking his input and obtaining information. Armed with knowledge from him and other officials, she worked diligently to try and have the board hear the concerns of parents in the group. Sadly, it seems as if it fell on deaf ears.

It was clear when listening to the meeting on Saturday night that that BOE members had already formed their opinions, and they were unwilling to listen to another viewpoint or budge off of their stance. For me, and so many other parents, it feels as if the BOE doesn’t care about what any of us had to say.

I find myself questioning whether or not they understand the difficulty they have placed on working families who now have to act as teacher to their children. In my situation, both my son’s father and I work full time. Most weeks, I am working over 40 hours a week. Now, because the BOE refuses to allow our students back into the classroom, I am forced to spend evenings and weekends ensuring that work is being completed and turned in. There is no longer family time. It is work and then my second job as an educator. And don’t get me started on the number of times I’ve gotten a call at work because the school issued iPad isn’t working correctly or my son has homework questions, and I am left with having to take time away from my job, that cool thing that puts food on the table, keeps the heat and lights on and allows me to pay that internet bill for him to be able to do his work.

The BOE has put parents in a position to fail. Either we focus on work and leave our child/children’s education on the back burner, or we devote our time helping them and making sure that they are getting, completing, submitting and learning material. Educators are being paid the same amount that they were pre-COVID, but now parents and guardians are responsible for doing part of their job. Something has to give.

I know, I know, the virus is at its peak right now. I get it. But educators and school personnel are being offered the vaccine to protect themselves. And, for some educators, the threat of the virus only seems like an issue when it’s time to get back into the classroom, as many have posted pictures and such of their travel escapades or of them attending sports gatherings. No other occupation has been able to refuse to do the job they signed up for. Healthcare professionals are on the front lines, seeing COVID positive patients, yet they still go in everyday and do their jobs. First responders still carry out their duties. Fast food and retail workers see hundreds of customers a day, but there they are, still manning their stations. Even me. I have a job that requires me to be in the public interacting with people. I never once got to stop reporting the news during this pandemic. Reporters are the only way that information got disseminated to the masses.

Yet when you bring that up to the BOE, it doesn’t matter. “We have to worry about safety,” they say. Don’t we all? I was under the impression that the sole responsibility of the BOE was to be concerned with the well-being of personnel and students and their education, yet multiple BOE members voiced that they were taking a stance because of the grandparents in the community. Yes, there are grandparents raising their grandchildren, but the ones that I know want their students back in school. They’ve heard the statistics of the spread within schools statewide. They know the stakes, but they still want a return to the classroom.

The Taylor County BOE has heard over and over again from us parents who wish to have our students back in school. They have heard from parents against it as well. However, to have one BOE member read emails that only suited her agenda was disgusting. I find it ironic that all of the emails she received, as well as the other board members, according to her during the meeting, were parents against the West Virginia Board’s directive to allow students back in the classroom. Especially strange since parents had voiced that they had emailed in favor of returning. I know that the BOE is in a tough situation, but it is apparent that only two of the sitting members were willing to negotiate to please everyone involved the best they could.

BOE member John Taylor made a motion that he said he had to make, not wanted to make, that upheld the state board’s decision with the provision of a blended model until all teachers and school personnel who wanted vaccinated had the opportunity. Melissa Garvin agreed, but the three other sitting members refused. Instead, they opted to continue with their plan established in December. That plan somehow seemingly change since that meeting. Before, they were going to follow the WV DHHR County Alert System Map, however it now appears they are formulating their own color system and going off of that. During Saturday’s meeting, Taylor County was in a yellow designation, which would place kids back in school four days a week, and because the percent positivity was less than five percent, that would allow us to move down to green, meaning five day in-person instruction would be allowed. However, they stated that because of the cases over a seven-day period, we would be red (but not on the map) and that the low positivity rate allowed a move to orange, keeping us remote, even though the state board ordered that learning model removed.

Each and every member of that board stood in the meeting room and took an oath to uphold the WV Constitution, and in one fell swoop, three of them broke that oath because of fear. This virus isn’t going anywhere soon. There will always be something that poses a risk to our students and school employees. When do we decide to face that fear head on? We’ve heard the data, we’ve heard it is safe to get our students back in school, yet all of that seems to have gone right out the window. There are teachers out there towing the load, working hard for their students, however that is not the majority, and our students are falling farther and farther behind, something that doesn’t seem to outweigh the fear felt by the BOE. And to me, that is sad. These children are our future. They are what and who will change our world, but I feel like our children are being left behind because our BOE fails to acknowledge the health officials and allow our kids the option to get back in school. Can we place fear over education? When do we push the fear aside and allow our kids the education they deserve?

*The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Mountain Statesman, Mountaineer Newspapers, Inc, or News Media Corporation.


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