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WCMS, WCHS go virtual, athletics halted

Citing a “rapid” growth of COVID-19 cases locally, Director of Schools Grant Swallows made the decision Friday to send WCMS and WCHS back to virtual learning through Christmas break and stop all county athletics and extra-curricular activities until January.

“Education is an absolute – we have to be able to do it. We are continuing to do that in the best way we see we can,” Swallows told the Warren County Sports Authority Friday afternoon. “We’re going to have to take a hard look at what we’re doing. It’s frustrating – we just did this and we’re already back to it.

“We have to take a hard look at what we’re doing at those two schools and make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We can’t do this every two weeks from now on.”

This is the second time WCMS and WCHS – the two largest schools in the school system – have been shut down in the last month. On Nov. 12, the both schools went virtual for over a week before schools were released for Thanksgiving break. Students returned back on Nov. 30, though they didn’t complete a full day until Wednesday, Dec. 2 (Schools were released early on the first day back due to snow and canceled the following day).

Now, after just six days of full-scale, in-person learning at each school (students haven’t attended classes on Fridays this year), Swallows is having to send two large student bodies.

“Those are two problem areas for us. We did this at Thanksgiving. There’s just not a lot of opportunity to distance. Rapidly is what concern me – rapid spread. We went from 46 to 76 (isolated students) in three days. Obviously there is a concern at those two schools,” said Swallows.

Late Thursday, school board member James Bennett took to Facebook to share his opinion on the current state of Warren County and its issues with COVID-19. Bennett wrote, “Our students and our teachers are getting sick. Our schools are understaffed. We do not have adequate janitorial staff. We have been short on bus drivers. There are not enough substitute teachers. Our nurses are working non-stop. Every day that we pretend things are normal within this district, we put staff and student lives at risk. I pray nightly for every teacher, every student and every parent as we continue down this path.”

A day later, the path changed.

“It’s a decision he had to make,” said Bennett. “Our numbers have kept increasing. The two biggest schools – with the number of students – I didn’t think it was going to get any easier. I had spoken with him a couple days ago. My thoughts were to go back remote with WCHS and WCMS.

“There’s not enough subs. People are sick. It’s the learning part of it – if you don’t have a teacher in the classroom, (the learning part) is just not there.”

Fellow board member Tanya Bess was also behind Swallows’ decision Friday.

“We elected Mr. Swallows and put a lot of faith in him and his decision making. He’s done a very good job – he wants to do what is right and he wants to keep children safe,” said Bess. “Honestly, if our community does not abide – and I’m not saying stay at home and hibernate – but if we don’t abide by rules about masking and staying away from others, it’s not going to help us.”

Swallows says he plans to continue having a conversation with teachers and administrators at all schools to make sure everything is being done to ensure the health and safety of everybody.

“We had staff meetings and I asked, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ and ‘Do we need to do something different?’ We’re going to continue to evaluate,” said Swallows.

One positive about going back to virtual, according to Swallows, is the comfortability kids are starting to find with remote learning. Swallows believes the students are more acclimated with the program, a byproduct of having to do it a few times already this fall.

“What I like when we went remote (In November), you could walk down the hall and if you weren’t looking into the room, you would think the teacher had a classroom full of students,” said Swallows.

Warren County students are scheduled to be in school through Thursday, Dec. 17. An abbreviated day is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 18 for teachers. Students are scheduled to return from Christmas break Tuesday, Jan. 5.

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