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The business session portion of the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, March 16 meeting focused on discussions on student cell phone use, the school division’s annual special education plan, the lifting pandemic mitigation strategies, virtual learning options and a code of conduct for board members.

WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch prepares to detail the school division’s annual special education plan for the Warren County School Board on March 16. Photos and video by Mike McCool.

Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch presented the school board with the draft 2022-2023 Special Education Annual Plan, “which is essentially a request for federal funds to support the special education,” he said.

The WCPS Special Education Annual Plan will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education, Special Education and Student Services Division. The state will provide the school division with special education funding once it receives Virginia’s share of federal special education dollars.

The WCPS Annual Plan, available for public review through March 21, consists of four parts: Assurance and Certification; Interagency Prison Agreement; Report on the implementation of the 2020-2021 plan; and request for federal funds. Hirsch said the Special Education Advisory Committee “wholeheartedly endorsed the annual plan” at its March 14 meeting.

Hirsch detailed every part of the annual plan. For example, the Interagency Jail Agreement component requires recertification. “Because there is a jail within the jurisdiction of Warren County, we are committed to serving inmates with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 22 with special education services,” he said. “We have a full-time teacher in the prison with a computer lab with no internet.”

The last part of the plan, which is the actual request for federal funds, shows that the WCPS allocation of the proposed grant funds will total $1,235,532 for K-12 students with disabilities and $31,841 for students with disabilities. from preschool.

Federal dollars match what the state and Warren County provide to support these students, Hirsch said, and the funds “will fund teachers’ salaries 100 percent.”

These are projected funds because the state will receive a revised allocation from the federal government after July 1, explained WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, who said the WCPS special education budget number would increase. or would decrease depending on what is in transit.

“We don’t tell them what we need; they’re the ones telling us what they’re going to give us,” Ballenger said, adding that WCPS would be responsible for any salary over and above the amount of funds allocated.
WCPS also supports private school and home school students and works diligently to locate all eligible students with disabilities between the ages of 2 and 22 in the county, Hirsch said, adding that WCPS also provides speech therapy, vision services and services for the deaf and hard of hearing. hearing-impaired students to these students.

Drop in COVID-19 cases
Hirsch also provided school board members with an update on WCPS’s COVID-19 Mitigation Health Plan for the 2021-2022 school year.

As of March 14, there were no active student cases and only one student was quarantined. “We have no active cases in the school division,” Hirsch said. “Looks like we’ve been waiting a long time to say that.”

In response, WCPS created a phase zero for its plan that resumes normal school operations. As part of Phase 0, face coverings are optional for students, staff and visitors. Face coverings are not required on school buses or in vehicles, according to the plan, although students’ temperatures will continue to be scanned when they enter the bus.

Additionally, phase zero dictates that contract tracing and quarantine protocols remain in place, as does routine COVID cleaning.

“So these are normal operations, however, we still want to use our quarantine and isolation protocols if necessary and we still want to do the COVID-level cleanup,” Hirsch said.

The water fountains will also be turned back on and their water filters are being replaced. “We still want to get rid of it and just have bottled water available,” he added.

Ballenger said he recently informed principals that social distancing was no longer necessary so students could be brought back in small groups, for example.

Use of mobile phones by students
After discussion, school board president Kristen Pence asked Ballenger to develop a survey to distribute to WCPS administrators, teachers, and students asking questions about students’ current cell phone use; whether such use is a problem and/or a disruption in each school; and how these problems could be corrected.

Pence said board members have received communications from parents and teachers about how student cellphones can be disruptive and wants the board to determine what it can do to try to reduce such use in WCPS. .

Ballenger, who provided the board with an explanation and summary of the WCPS Code of Conduct policy, said, “Cell phones are one of the things we are challenged with on a daily basis.”
The superintendent said some teachers allow their use while others do not. For example, at Warren County Middle School, some students are required to check in and hand over their cell phones when they enter school each day. “It’s a process; we are talking about someone’s personal property,” he said. “It can sometimes be difficult.”

School board member Antoinette Funk asked about the rules and expectations regarding the use of cell phones by staff and teachers. Ballenger said they vary by school because each has an individual textbook. He said the division is working on developing a division-wide manual.

WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger discusses teacher staffing issues online with board members.

The school board also again discussed adopting a code of conduct for its members and Ballenger, in preparation for the 2022-2023 school year, explained personnel issues impacting WCPS by offering options. virtual learning.

To watch the school board’s March 16 meeting in full, access the exclusive Royal Examiner video here.

Warren County School Board Approves WCPS Proposed Budget for 2022-23