Warren County Public Schools plans to bring middle and high school students back into the classrooms four days per week starting March 15.

Superintendent Christopher Ballenger presented the division’s latest reopening plan to the School Board at its meeting Wednesday. The board approved the plan after hearing several administration officials present information about the initiative to increase the number of days students would attend in-person classes.

Chairman Arnold M. Williams Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine R. Bower and board members James S. Wells, Kristen J. Pence and Ralph A. Rinaldi attended the meeting.

Middle- and high-school students will begin attending in-person classes four days per week starting March 15. Ballenger said the division will freeze the schedules — hybrid or virtual — for middle and high school students.

“Right now, there’s not just a push at the state level but also a push at the national level for schools,” Ballenger said as he introduced the plan. “We know how important it is for our students to be in school and we know going into this year was going to be a challenging year ...”

School officials created a reopening plan that they could review and update, with the goal in mind of increasing the number of in-person classroom days, Ballenger said. The division used the elementary schools, which hold in-person classes four days per week, as a guide for the rest of the grades, Ballenger said. The division has seen the benefit of this approach at the elementary schools from their achievements in reaching certain benchmarks, he added.

“We know that this is also affecting students, that it can have lasting effects, not just short-term but lifetime effects, because, just in a few short days, March 13, it will be, for some students, a full year that they have actually set foot in a building,” Ballenger said.

During the past four to six weeks, closings for holidays and winter weather have kept many high school students from attending in-person classes on their scheduled Mondays, Ballenger noted.

“Right now, we know that students need to be in class,” Ballenger said. “We want them in class, so how can we make that happen?”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people maintain a social distance of 6 feet when feasible or at least 3 feet, Ballenger said. The CDC recently released additional guidelines, which Ballenger said the division can meet. As fewer people test positive for COVID-19, Ballenger said he expects the division to shift from one area of the guidelines to a less stringent set.

Other area school systems are moving to or are considering an increase in the number of in-person days for students, Ballenger said.

“Schools are going to be moving in that direction because it’s what’s best for students and that’s what our goal is,” Ballenger said. “We always have to remind ourselves the reason that we’re here, the reason I have my job is because of the students.

“Right now, we know our students are struggling — we know that and we want to ... offer some support to them,” Ballenger went on to say.

Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch presented information to the board about the division’s COVID-19 safety and mitigation strategies. He credited parents for keeping their children at home when they are sick rather than letting them go to in-person classes, and said this practice has helped reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The division also follows the guidelines established by health agencies to mitigate the spread of the virus, Hirsch said. Strategies include wearing face masks or shields, frequent sanitization of school facilities and maintaining social distances.

School divisions can increase the number of in-person days for students the more they implement the mitigation strategies, Ballenger explained.

The School Board also heard from other officials including Assistant Superintendent for Administration Melody Sheppard, who spoke about the new CDC guidelines and Director of Transportation Aaron Mitchell, who updated members on how the division would handle busing students more days per week. Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox spoke to the board about how the division addressed learning for middle- and high-school students.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com