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Board of Education meetings cover unity, special education and re-entry plans
July 31, 2020

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CHARLES TOWN - The Jefferson County Board of Education held a special meeting on July 23 to receive an update on the re-entry plan for local students, as well as an update on changes in the county's unity and cultural diversity programs.

The board also held a lengthy discussion on special education needs, after hearing a presentation from staffers who requested additional positions in the area.

Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson told the board the re-entry plan would be made available. The plan was released within days of the meeting. Gibson made clear the plan is not final, because the school system must abide by any and all changes that come from the governor with regard to COVID-19 accommodations, including probable changes to the school calendar.

At their regular meeting on Monday, the board approved changes to the calendar that coincide with directives from Gov. Jim Justice to begin school on Sept. 8 and end no later than June 1. The new calendar can be found on the board's website.

Options for on-site learning and virtual capabilities are currently being discussed and finalized, both locally and statewide. According to Gibson, clarifications on remote learning are still expected from the state.

"The state has been working with us to clarify virtual options. They have told us they intend to release a guidance document to us next week," Gibson said.

During Thursday's special meeting, the board heard a detailed presentation from Tanya Dallas Lewis, cultural diversity and staff coordinator for the school system.

Lewis informed the board that the Cultural Diversity Department will now be known as the Cultural, Unity and Equity Department, to encourage everyone coming together despite differences.

"Diversity is not just black and brown people -- it is everybody," Lewis said. "It's not just race or gender -- it's language, body type, age. I could go on."

Lewis reported, and was joined by, several staff members who had attended training to develop a deeper understanding of diversity. Those individuals spoke of how beneficial they found the training, and how they can incorporate it by serving as cultural unity advocates within the school system.

A lengthy presentation was offered by the county's special education committee, outlining the current status of students with special needs in the county. The board was asked to approve several positions, including the hiring of coaches, who, according to Mary Ann Bishay, a member of the committee, would provide training to current special education teachers and support to assure the school system is in compliance with state regulations.

Board members had many questions including why there is a need for coaches, when there is already a need for special education teachers.

"Why don't you advertise for teachers?" asked board member Donna Joy.

Joy pointed out that the data upon which the hiring recommendations were made could be faulty data.

"If you look at the numbers, you see that every category is at 14 percent. And every year there is no change, which is highly improbable," Joy said. "How do you make hiring decisions based on data that is highly improbable?"

Board member Laurie Ogden questioned whether current staff could be retrained to assist with some of the workload that, through the evening's request, would potentially require new hires.

"Can we retain folks, like transportation aides, to help with things like billing, especially if we go all-virtual?" Ogden questioned. "I think the intention here is good, but I feel like we don't have a handle on the data and where are we going to target our money and our staff."

Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Shawn Dilly agreed that there are disparities in the data.

The board chose to table the decision to hire, until clarification on the accuracy of the data could be determined, to show whether new positions could be justified. The board plans to re-address the issue in its August board meeting.

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