Greenbrier County Schools (GCS) is gearing up to open all 13 schools in the county for full-time in-person learning for all students. Grade 1 – 6 and 9 kick off the new school year on Monday, Aug. 30. Grade 1 – 12 will attend on Tuesday, Aug. 31. Pre-K and Kindergarten students begin school on Thursday, Sept. 9.
“We could not be more enthusiastic about welcoming students back to our classrooms for what we hope will be a much more normal school experience,” states Superintendent Jeff Bryant.
“We open this school year with a focus on collaborating with all stakeholders to accomplish a shared goal. That goal is to keep our schools open for learning, and our charge is to do what is necessary to keep our schools safe to achieve this goal. We understand we’ll have to remain flexible and ready to pivot as the COVID-19 and variant situation demands. Protecting the health and well-being of our students and staff will continue to be of the highest priority, with many of the preventive health protocols that we embraced last year remaining in place. This includes things like enhanced cleaning, daily checklist self-screening, managing traffic patterns in our hallways and at large gatherings, emphasizing good hygiene, contact tracing, quarantining, and facilitating vaccinations for those eligible to receive them,” continued Bryant.
To protect the school community, families, and community at large, school officials encourage vaccinations for those eligible to receive them. GCS has facilitated several in-school vaccination clinics in collaboration with area health partners. Health experts agree that the vaccination is effective against the variants, can prevent hospitalization, and reduce the severity of the illness for people who become infected. Additionally, data shows up to 98% of coronavirus-related deaths are people that have not been vaccinated.
Greenbrier County Schools collaborates with community health partners to provide vaccination clinics to students and family members at upcoming high school Open House events. On Aug. 26, COVID-19 vaccines will be offered in addition to the T-dap and Meningitis vaccinations required for students entering grades 7 and 12. The clinic at Greenbrier East High School will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Clinic hours at Greenbrier West High School will be from 5 to 7 p.m.
“Frankly stated, if children and adults who are in the school setting have been vaccinated, they don’t have to quarantine if they become exposed to a COVID-positive individual. It protects students and keeps them in a classroom learning which is where we want them to be,” said Bryant.
As explained by GCS in a protocol infographic, masks are required in school facilities for all Greenbrier County students, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status through September. After Oct. 1, the WVDHHR County Alert Map indicator for the previous day will determine mask-wearing protocol for the next school day. Effective Oct. 1, green or yellow map status will make masks optional on the next school day. Gold, orange, or red map status will make masks a requirement for all staff, students, and visitors on the next school day. The daily mask protocol will be communicated to students and staff by principals as part of their school-day announcements. Masks must be worn at all times while on buses or other school transportation per federal requirements, regardless of color-coded map status.
Lead School Nurse Paula McCoy addresses the decision to mask through September, explaining that, “By masking through September, we are allowing time for COVID-19 infections that may be circulating after the State Fair and the Labor Day weekend to dissipate. This also helps maintain a safer environment for our Pre-K and Kindergarten students who don’t start school until Sept. 9. Exercising caution early on will pay off in the long run in terms of limiting viral illness (including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus) among students and staff and ultimately help us keep schools open.”
Dr. Jennifer Bailey, a local pediatrician, supports the decision to mask, stating, “We have found that masking is a safe and effective strategy to decrease the spread of COVID-19 along with other viral infections that could lead to the loss of school days for our children. People often forget that getting flu or other viral illnesses can also lead to a student being out of instruction. We know from our trends last year that all illness spread was decreased through masking. I support children being in school full time. I also encourage everyone that can be vaccinated to be vaccinated. Our responsibility as a community is to do our part through vaccinations and masking to keep our community spread down. My focus for our children and adolescents is for this to be a recovery year where learning is the focus. Universal masking is a great strategy to help achieve this goal and avoid another full shutdown.”
Kathleen Martin, MD, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics – WV Chapter and pediatrician at WVSOM, echoed the sentiment stating, “I strongly support in-person learning AND masking. The two have to go together until our vaccination rates improve drastically.”
Following school board approval of the 2021-222 Back to School Plan on Aug. 18, School Board President Jeanie Wyatt stated, “Our board considered input from students, parents, and staff, in addition to the recommendations of national, state, and local health officials. Almost everyone agrees that keeping our schools open for full-time in-person learning is critically important for our students, parents, and community. Our plan requires masks for the first month. Still, it is flexible enough to respond to our community’s infection and positivity rates so that, after Oct. 1 masks will be optional if our county is in the green or yellow category on the map.”
School officials encourage parents to visit the Back to School page at greenbriercountyschools.org for additional information and resources.