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St. Joseph Catholic School conducts a caravan parade down 6th Avenue to celebrate school staff, students, and graduating seniors on Wednesday, May 13, in Huntington. Catholic schools around the state are preparing to reopen in the fall with five-day school weeks. 

HUNTINGTON — West Virginia Catholic Schools have outlined plans to welcome students back in the fall for five-day, in-person school weeks.

According to a release from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, each school will set its own start date, but all students will return by Aug. 24, at the latest.

Locally, both Our Lady of Fatima Parish School and St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington plan to begin their academic years on Aug. 17.

“Our plan right now is to be in session five days a week and to begin on Aug. 17,” said Micah O’Connor, principal at Our Lady of Fatima. “We’re going to practice all of our social distancing as much as possible, but our benefit at our school is that we are a small school. We have large classrooms but small class sizes.”

O’Connor said although both staff and students are eager to return, the school will be implementing several new safety measures and sanitizing procedures upon reopening.

St. Joe Principal Carol Templeton said the facility’s preschool program has remained operational during the COVID-19 crisis, which will make the transition easier since those teachers and students have been following recommended safety guidelines since March.

“We applied for an additional crisis childcare license to provide care to students whose parents are considered essential workers, so we’ve already maximizing following all CDC, the health department and the DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources) requirements. Those are already in place, so we are going to extend that out to our older students.”

The state advised parents to expect changes at all Catholic schools in the fall, including detailed entrance and exit procedures, heightened cleaning routines, temperature checks, masks in designated areas and schedule changes.

“We’re in discussions with the Diocese, with other Catholic schools, with our school community as far as what it will look like when we return. So that’s looking at lessons, how to restructure, the logistics of how children move about the building, how we’re going to be cleaning on a regular basis,” Templeton said. “There are a lot of creative ways out there that we are trying to put together so we can maximize the safety and wellbeing of our students, but at the same time we can provide that traditional five-day schedule.”

Classrooms may also look different than usual to allow extra space for social distancing, and school staff will be provided training on cleaning techniques and how to recognize potential concerns.

In addition, teachers will have the chance to participate in virtual and distance learning training provided by the diocese’s Department of Catholic Schools in the event that remote learning would need to be implemented once again.

O’Connor said Our Lady of Fatima is a 1-1 school, meaning each student from kindergarten to eighth grade has his or her own technology to take home each day.

“We are prepared if it occurs that we have to go to online school again. We had that benefit to begin with because we have 1-1 technology with every student, and we had already implemented cyber days if we had a snow day,” O’Connor said. “It was a difficult transition, but we were prepared technology-wise.”

As the virus situation remains fluid, the Department of Catholic Schools will consistently monitor federal, state and county mandates as the 2020-21 school year approaches.

Both Our Lady of Fatima and St. Joe will continue to work to develop detailed reopening plans for families.

Follow reporter Hanna Pennington via Twitter @hpennHD.

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