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HUNTINGTON — More than a dozen teachers and other members of the community spoke their minds in front of the Cabell County Board of Education on Tuesday evening.

Several protesters stood outside the board conference room before the meeting began, holding signs and letting their opinions be known — that allowing schools to operate at full capacity is a dangerous mistake.

Inside, for longer than an hour, many of those same people used their allotted 3 minutes of time to urge the superintendent and board members to delay the resumption of five-day-a-week, in-person instruction in Cabell County beyond the current target date of Jan. 19, set by Gov. Jim Justice.

Adam Culver said accepting the “rushed, haphazard plan” would be a dire mistake. Beth Ball, a teacher at Huntington East Middle School, said the safety of employees wasn’t being taken into consideration.

“Why can’t we wait until things are safer? What’s a couple more months if it saves lives?” she asked.

Several others colored their conversations with similar tones, opposed to returning schools to full capacity because of safety measures, like social distancing, that could be difficult to maintain if all students and staff are present.

That was one of the main concerns for Theresa Jackson, a Huntington Middle School teacher who learned of the intent to return to five-day-a-week instruction while on Christmas break.

“In the text of that email, it didn’t seem like we were going to get any kind of voice, so I’m happy to see the board taking the time for a vote,” Jackson said. “I was just really concerned and wanted to be involved in the process of making the decision.”

Three of the 24 individuals who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting supported the transition from the current blended learning model to five-day-a-week, in-person instruction. Comparisons were made between Cabell County and other nearby school districts in other states that have been able to resume in-person instruction without significant conflict.

While no decision was made on students and staff returning to five days of in-person instruction, Superintendent Ryan Saxe offered remarks on how the school district plans to do so safely when allowed.

He alluded to the working relationship the school district has with the Cabell-Huntington Health Department to determine the safest path forward as it relates to the school system.

“We have a high-quality, robust relationship with Dr. (Michael) Kilkenny and Dr. (Andrea) Lauffer to make sure our team at the district level has the information and resources needed to be as safe as possible,” Saxe said.

Lauffer, the chief health officer for the school district, presented research on the short- and long-term effects on students who have been removed from in-person instruction for a long period of time, including mental and physical health as well as a variety of other factors.

“Our current data is showing numerous negative effects on students during the pandemic that may be exacerbated for many by continuing remote learning,” Lauffer said.

In other business, Huntington High School teacher Helen Freeman was recognized for recently receiving recognition from the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) as the Coach of the Year.

Freeman has been teaching 35 years and for the past 14 years has taught theater, speech and debate at Huntington High School. She was awarded a $5,000 grant and will participate in various events, having the opportunity to share her experience with other NSHSS educators, educational partners and students.

In addition, the Huntington High School Speech and Debate Team was commended by board members for their recent success at the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Classic. The Barboursville Middle School mass communications class was recognized for their effort in producing a series of commercials during coursework.

Luke Creasy is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @HDcreasy or reach him by phone at 304-526-2800.

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