With a mid-August start for its 2020-21 school term looming, Fayette County Schools personnel are preparing for a safe educational path forward in the Covid-19 era.

Along those lines, the Fayette County Board of Education recently sought bids for readying schools and equipment to deal with situations related to Covid-19.

According to Tim Payton, director of operations, one set of bids was geared toward obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfecting equipment, supplies and cleaning equipment for use in various situations in county schools. The supplies sought include powered disinfectant equipment such as sprayers/foggers/misters, nitrile gloves, single-use disposable masks, KN95 masks, hand sanitizer, face shields, disinfectant, no-touch thermometers and disinfecting wipes.

Bids were accepted until Monday, June 22.

Ahead of the deadline, Payton said his office had already received several responses — from both local vendors and out-of-county vendors.

"We know we're going to be spending lots of money on PPE, disinfectant (and other areas)," said Payton. "We're not sure exactly what we are going to need.

"We know we're going to have to ramp up and buy more (supplies)."

That includes more of common materials that may have already been in the system's supply chain. But it also features items such as face shields. "We don't keep a lot of face shields around," said Payton.

The pending purchases will be made possible by the CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security) Act, which provides federal stimulus dollars to assist state agencies, local school districts, businesses, organizations, families and students and other entities during the pandemic. According to the West Virginia Department of Education website, the preliminary allocation for Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Funding (ESSERF) as of May 7 included $2,300,033 for Fayette.

Payton said his department will have allotments of $300,000 and $200,000 to utilize for its particular mission.

Student enrollment for Fayette County in official figures reported in October 2019 was 6,048 (5,773 public and 275 private). The share of ESSER funds breaks down as follows: public ($2,195,452) and private ($104,582).

The West Virginia Department of Education is providing guidance for school systems in the fluid situation. On its website, the department outlines possible re-entry scenarios. They include: 1) in-person and/or blended instruction, in which all students will be engaged in learning five days a week but student mobility at schools may be minimized by having them attend a limited number of days or in a rotation pattern, and/or class sizes may be limited; and 2) full remote delivery, which will be necessary if an outbreak occurs and an executive stay-at-home order is issued by Gov. Jim Justice. All students, working with their teachers, will complete assignments remotely five days a week.

More information can be obtained at https://wvde.us/school-system-re-entry/.

Incoming Fayette County Superintendent Gary Hough recently said protocol looking ahead to the coming school term is still being developed. Communications continue with local school administrators, and a survey involving options was expected to be available to parents last week. In recent weeks, officials have examined some preferable options for local re-entry.

Uncertainty remains, however. "We don't know what's going to happen in the next month or month-and-a-half," he said.

When the time comes for decisions, the approach will center on creating a safe environment for students and staff, providing a quality education, and being good citizens of the community and state, Hough said.

Treasurer/Chief School Business Official Paula Fridley said the plan is "still a work in progress." The funding isn't in hand yet, she said, but the school system is allowed to be involved in the process of submitting proposals. In addition to securing personal protective equipment, disinfecting equipment and other supplies, some of the funds are targeted to buy technology such as Schoology, a social networking service and virtual learning environment for K-12 schools and higher education institutions, Fridley said. Another portion of the money will be used for the summer feeding program, she added.

Last Thursday, a demonstration was staged for a disinfectant spray which will be used in the coming school term in, among other scenarios, county school buses. According to Director of Transportation Bryan Parsons, the main thrust centers on "how to safely get kids to school and making sure everything is disinfected," he said. "I already know that I'm going to require bus drivers to disinfect their buses multiple times throughout the day. And we wanted a product that didn't take a lot of time.

"How we're going to transport kids, that's still on my desk, thinking about it." He said he has to await direction from state officials before developing more concrete plans.

One of the concerns when Covid-19 began to surface was that "it's almost impossible to social distance on a school bus," said Parsons. "You can't send only six kids at a time, so you have to look at the safest way."

Parsons said 74 buses are used county-wide to deliver students to school. His summer has included attempting to put a plan together with Covid-19 as a primary consideration. "Whatever plan they (state officials) design, I want to have different scenarios for that."

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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