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Meadows Elementary School students board the bus for the trip home March 13. Schools throughout West Virginia have been closed since mid-March because of the novel coronavirus. As the new school year approaches, counties are announcing plans to resume classes while minimizing exposure to the virus.

School officials in Cabell and Wayne counties have announced their plans to resume the school year Sept. 8. Because of the lingering presence of the novel coronavirus, school this fall will look different from what it did a year ago.

Parents in Cabell County have until July 31 to choose from the three plans that are being offered. There is the five-day traditional model, a full-time virtual schedule or a blended option. Superintendent Ryan Saxe says families need to register by July 31 to allow the district to make necessary changes for the upcoming school year.

“This affords schools the opportunity to revise master schedules to reflect the number of expected students in our classrooms,” he said. “We’re asking parents to choose an instructional model they are most comfortable with as we look to when we are allowed a physical return to schools.”

The Wayne County Board of Education on Tuesday approved a plan offered by Superintendent Todd Alexander. Students will start this school year with a blended learning approach, receiving two days of in-person instruction and three days of distance learning for at least the first grading period. The blended learning approach allows for in-person instruction to take place Monday and Tuesday for half the student body at each school, and on Thursday and Friday for the remaining students. Wednesdays are reserved for virtual and distance learning. All employees will report on those days, but no students will be in the building.

Each school will divide the student body into the two groups. On days when those groups are not in the school building, they will be responsible for completing assignments through distance learning.

“We know now that COVID-19 is spreading, and there is certainly a concern about whether there is going to be a spread in the schools. If allowed to return, and that plan could change at any time, we propose this plan to be the best,” Alexander said.

“This plan will allow us to maintain a lower building occupancy and increase the ability to social distance and limit student contact during the school day.”

Those who are uncomfortable with returning in a blended approach will have the option to enroll in a virtual learning method.

Parents and others with custody of schoolchildren will make difficult decisions depending on their tolerance of risk and on their specific family circumstances. What works for one family might not work for another.

We can be sure that as the school year wears on, changes will be made. Alexander acknowledged that fact Tuesday evening. Sooner or later in the first term school officials will learn what works and what doesn’t in terms of disease prevention, learning outcomes and in-school discipline.

Everyone knows there are dozens of reasons why the plans in Cabell and Wayne county might not work. Everyone also knows the reason why these plans must be tried, and that is the education our children need. We’re in unknown territory here. We’re still learning what works and what doesn’t, what people will accept and what they won’t.

Most of us want normal back. We thought summer would bring us closer to normal, but a combination of events and trends pretty much killed those hopes. Here in West Virginia, the governor’s decision to postpone the start of the school year to the day after Labor Day may have helped school officials plan for the coming year, but it also may have extended the summer vacation season.

We’ll just have to see. We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there. School officials have made their decisions. Now it’s time for parents and others to make theirs.

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