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Washington County schools to begin staggered in-classroom schedule

The Washington County Board of Education agreed Monday to proceed with a revised pandemic school operating plan that allows county students to return to in-person classroom learning later this month.

Washington County schools, which opened on a virtual schedule on Aug. 3, will begin a staggered classroom schedule on Sept. 18 that continues until Sept. 28.

The plan calls for half a school’s students returning to the classroom on Monday and Tuesday (with the remaining students engaged in virtual learning) and the other half of a school’s students returning to the grounds Thursday and Friday (with the remaining 50% in virtual classrooms).

Wednesday will be a cleaning day for the system, and all students will be involved in virtual learning at their homes.

After fall break, which is Oct. 2-8, all Washington County students will return to in-classroom instruction on Oct. 12 based on a review of the number of new novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the county.

In a called meeting on Monday, school board members agreed to continue with the transitional plan they approved on Sept. 3. Their decision came after a motion to skip the staggered scheduled and begin full classroom instruction on Sept 21 failed by a 2 to 7 vote.

Board member Keith Ervin told his colleagues “we need to get these kids back in school” as soon as possible.

“The longer we wait, the closer we get to flu season,” he said.

Board member Mary Beth Dellinger, however, said students, parents and teachers “need a transition period” before going from virtual learning to a full classroom schedule.

Dellinger also made a successful motion to require all students wear a face mask while in the classroom. The school board voted earlier this month to make face coverings a requirement for school employees, and simply encouraged students to wear masks.

The requirement makes medical exceptions for both students and staff.

Bill Flanary, the county’s director of schools, said the mask requirement for students will be enforced much in the same way the system’s dress code is currently. He said students will be given “breathing breaks” outdoors, and the school system has more than enough masks on hand to accommodate all students who need one.

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