Back-to-school in the middle of October

  • Joe Buerkley
    Joe Buerkley

    After calling off school for an unknown period in March when Covid-19 cases first appeared in Harrison County, the staff at Pendleton County schools spent the weekend developing a virtual learning option they would use for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
    Since then, Superintendent Joe Buerkley worked throughout the summer to prepare plans and contingencies to return to school for the 2020-21 school year.
    As that first day in August approached, it became apparent that they needed to delay school and the decision was made to spend the first quarter in virtual learning while other students could spend the entire first semester in PC Academy. It is a virtual learning option.
    The delay was not because of a spike in coronavirus cases but rather a shortage in personnel, especially bus drivers and substitute teachers.
    “Our plan from the beginning of the year worked well in order to allow us time to hire and train an adequate number of staff to hold in-person learning. All of our full-time positions are filled; however, we are still short in the area of substitutes.  This can and will impact us as we move forward,” said Buerkley.
    The shortage was apparent with a recent decision concerning Northern Elementary kindergarten.
    While the return has been positive, those plans that were painstakingly written and rewritten throughout the summer have had to be adjusted after that first day of in-person learning.
    Buerkley indicated that both breakfast and lunches are both challenging times for schools. With students are obviously allowed to take off their masks while eating, it has been challenging for building principals to make sure the six-foot social distancing is maintained.
    Since a return to in-person and despite fears that schools would be a super spreader and lead to a wide outbreak of positive cases and deaths, that has not happened. Until the past week.
    On Tuesday, November 3, the district announced that Northern Elementargy kindergarten  instructional assistant had tested positive and because of the aforementioned shortage of staff, kindergarten for just that school would go to virtual learning through November 13.
    At 2:54 p.m. on Wednesday, November 4, it was announced that a preschool assistant at Southern Elementary had tested positive but since there was limited exposure to other staff members and students, a switch to virtual learning was not needed.
    That would change just four hours later as a an additional positive case involving a preschool teacher at Southern led to a swith to virtual learning for preschool classes.
    On the morning of Friday, November 6, the school district was notified of a positive test for a custodial staff member at PCHS.
    On Saturday, November 7, two more positive cases with one staff member at Department of Student Services and a student at PCHS.
    Buerkley had told Falmouth Outlook in the midst of these cases, “Each case must be handled individually in order to determine the appropriate response.”
    With such a fluid andconstantly changing story, as of Monday morning on November 9, the district has been informed of three cases involving in-person learners and five staff members.
    He explained that the district collaborates with Three Rivers District Health Deparmtent to determine the next steps.
    “Many factors influence how we must respond, such as was the individual an in-person learner or virtual learner, had the individual been in contact with others while positive, etc. Many of these questions are answered through communication with the individual and the local health department contact tracers. Three Rivers Health Department has done an outstanding job collaborating with us throughout this process,” he explained.
    Whether the school district will completely return to virtual learning is yet to be determined, but Buerkley is pleased with his district’s response.
    “As I have said numerous times before, the 2020-21 school year will be fluid and changes to our plan may be required in order to maintain the safety of our students and staff.  Since the school year began, 49 school districts (as of 11/3/20) that have begun in-person learning returned to virtual at some point.  Based on this information I believe we have navigated this situation well to this point.”
    All of the cases have been involving classes and athletics have not had to cancel a single athletic contest because of a positive case or a quarantine situation. While playing a limited schedule because of KHSAA guidelines, teams in cross country, golf, soccer, football and volleyball have competed in the fall. Football is the last fall sport still playing and the Wildcats were scheduled to play Mason County in the first round of the playoffs this Friday. KHSAA has delayed the start of the playoffs and presently it is rescheduled for Friday, November 19.
    Winter sports have started practicing with bowling the first to have competitive contests and basketball presently scheduled to start their season on Monday, November 23. Whether that date is to hold is yet to be determined.