Board divides over students inside schools


The Wise County School Board spent more than two hours Tuesday hearing public statements and deliberating over whether to send students to their respective schools, but nothing has changed.

Last month, the board voted 6-2 to stay virtual until Sept. 18.

A motion introduced Tuesday by board member Martha Jett for students to go from an all-virtual curriculum to return to school five days per week did not pass. Jett, Mark Raymond, Herb Shortt and Chairman Larry Greear voted in favor of the motion while Vicki Williams, Donnese Kern, John Graham and Vice Chairman Phillip Bates voted against it.

During the vote, Bates was unsure about voting on students returning to school, but he advised that the board should get updated numbers on which students wanted to remain remote learners.

Superintendent Greg Mullins advised his office would be able to send out another survey to parents to get updated information and should be able to have results to the board by Monday afternoon.

In the original survey sent out to parents before school started, almost half (49.9 percent) preferred a full-time return to class while the other half preferred either the hybrid schedule (27.6 percent) or full-time remote learning (22.5 percent).

The first proposed hybrid schedule would have put students in class two days per week. Group A would attend on Monday and Tuesday while Group B would be in school on Thursday and Friday, with Wednesdays reserved for deep cleaning and remote learning.

Shortt relayed that some teachers are concerned about the amount of extra work that would come with the hybrid schedule. Shortt said most teachers want to either return to school full-time or stay all-virtual instead of using a hybrid method. He also was concerned about the virtual learners being left behind in a hybrid scenario.

Mullins advised that last month, 12 teachers tested positive for COVID-19 and another 28 were in isolation. There are two Union Primary School employees who were on ventilators, but are now off them and making slow progress.

During public comments, Wise Primary School special education teacher Amber Robinson expressed concern about returning to school. Robinson tearfully spoke about her father, who had recently passed away from COVID-19, and urged the school board to take into account those with preexisting conditions.

But the largest percentage of public comments came in favor of children returning back to school. Two local healthcare providers, nurse practitioners Melissa Begley of Norton and Whitney Brook Mays of Coeburn, expressed their support for returning to in-person classes, citing concerns over learning loss and information from the federal Centers for Disease Control indicating that most deaths in the U.S. have involved people 65 or older.

Central High School senior Hannah McAmis expressed concerns about the lack of social interaction, while Eastside High School senior Lance Stanley spoke about his own grades.

“I am struggling. I . . . am struggling in class,” Stanley said. “Class on a computer is nearly impossible . . . Whether it be one, two, three, four days or all week long, we need to be in class.”

After the tie vote, the board asked Mullins and his office to proceed with sending out another survey to parents to obtain newer numbers to aid the board in making a decision.

The board agreed to hold a special meeting Monday at 6 p.m. The board will reconvene with the new survey information and will reevaluate the return-to-school plan to see what change, if any, is needed.