Essential reporting in volatile times.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to the Coal Valley News.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

phil perry headshot.jpg

Coal Valley News reporter Phil Perry

Welcome back to Wrong Side of the Mountain, my column about what makes Boone County a good or bad place to live depending on your perspective.

I can honestly feel the concern of parents as they sent their children back to school with an open mind and trusting heart as we navigate the muddy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have a 10 year-old daughter who is participating in virtual learning for the entire year. I was skeptical at first but through her first two weeks in this environment, she is doing well. She does not attend school in West Virginia. I’ve found comfort in the constant updates from her school system by email, social media and phone communications (recorded messages from school officials).

In West Virginia, we have more elderly, multi-generational families living under one roof than nearly any other state in the U.S.

According to the research conducted by the advocacy group Generations United, 51.4 million Americans now live in multigenerational households which represents a 10% increase since 2007.

That’s a lot.

I think that even looking beyond our lack of knowledge regarding long-term effects of COVID-19 on school-aged children, the virus has attacked our elderly population – proof can simply be seen in the statistics produced from the death toll in West Virginia alone.

We’ve had questions like, “What is the protocol if there is a break-out in our school?”

Educators have been provided a re-entry toolkit from the West Virginia Department of Education located at tinyurl.com/y5bu35qx. There was a tremendous amount of thought and effort put into this and I think, based on my review of it for what that is worth, is solid. I encourage parents to dive into it if you haven’t already. It may answer some questions.

According to protocol, any student or staff member who has tested positive for COVID-19 must stay home for an isolation period. Those in contact with them must adhere to a 14-day quarantine period, as well.

Schools are permitted to stay open unless we have infections in two or more classes. At the state level, they recommend “consideration” for closing the school in question.

This leaves some tough decisions in the hands of our county-level school officials. I don’t envy those decisions. There are passionate folks on both sides of the isle tearing meat from the bone, so to speak and making valid points in all directions.

In recent days, I’ve looked into outbreaks in Boone County Schools – particularly the high schools.

We’ve certainly had sports teams with quarantined student-athletes and we’ve had teachers and students test positive as well, along with family members of each party. Some of the information I’ve found that was communicated to me off-the-record has been exaggerated down the line in terms of who was infected and who they were in contact with, but others were not.

 I’m not in the business of skip tracing, nor do I have the time to do such tasks but I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the concerns of those who have reached out to me.

This is where our health department comes in. We count on them to execute accurate skip tracing and to provide guidance to the families and close contacts of those who turn up positive for COVID-19. They serve an important role in helping advise our school system.

As I pen this column on Sept. 17, Boone County has gone from orange to gold and back to orange via state-level mapping. Sports are shut down (in terms of playing games) and the doors of our schools are closed once again, at least temporarily.

I don’t see the prep sports debate as black and white as most of you. I’d like more information. I’d like to see some data compiled (quickly and accurately) from across the country and I’d like to see a more defined line in the sand drawn that doesn’t move around. Our heads are spinning for goodness sakes. Our coaches are spending more time studying ever-changing map metrics than anything else.

Just to be clear as a bell in this column, I’m not asking for identities of positive tests – on the contrary. I would like to know about the process we’re following moving forward in classrooms where we’ve had infections. Have those parents been contacted? How is our health department aiding in the process from the school’s perspective? In these trying times, people want to feel informed and assured. I don’t think they do right now.

I will say this, as someone who has had four tests and was positive on the first one, there is no shame in coming up positive. I’d like to think we’ve moved past that immature, childish notion.

Based on what I’ve seen in neighboring counties, Lincoln County and Cabell County schools are doing things to go above and beyond to keep accurate information flowing. This serves to nix the rumors and innuendo that can quickly make falsehoods the truth.

I think many questions revolve around technology and what those without adequate equipment or perhaps stable, if any internet access are to do when working from home during these periods where our schools are shut down.

This is an open request to Boone County Schools to extend a more communicative hand to the community; to provide daily updates via social media and their own website but preferably both. I think that the notion of “protecting the privacy of their staff and student body” would be better served flowing in the other direction toward transparency.

I’d like to see a one-hour virtual forum held by our Superintendent Jeffrey Huffman and board members that would allow the community to ask questions via a simple submission process in real-time. I think this would go a long way in mending some broken fences. Would this put officials on a hot seat? Of course it would, but that is where we are right now.

I have reached out to Boone County Schools in an attempt to provide a platform or conduit to push more information out to the community. I know that your job is hard, but please help us be prepared for what is coming down the pike through more accessible communication within our community.

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. Be safe, friends.