- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A tiny community school in West Virginia is looking for financial help to fix damage from a ceiling collapse that has forced about 160 students to be shuttled across mountains to other schools for the start of the school year.

Classes began Thursday for Harman School students who are now being bused about 25 miles to four others schools in Randolph County. Harman School includes students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grades.

Harman School Principal Tammy Daniels said Friday a large section of plaster fell in a classroom in early July. Reopening the one classroom wasn’t an option because the ceiling elsewhere also would have to be replaced with 4 to 6 inches of plaster and a metal grid.

“If that would have come down on one of the kids, it could have really been tragic,” Daniels said.

She said community efforts have raised $200,000 for repairs to the elementary section of the school. But Daniels said at least $700,000 more is needed to get the rest of the school fixed.

Daniels said no public funds for repairs have been made available because the school is scheduled to permanently close in 2019 rather than bring it up to building codes. But she said the county board of education is working to take the school off the closure list.

Officials for the county board of education and the state School Building Authority, which handles school facility maintenance, didn’t immediately return telephone messages Friday.

For now, children in prekindergarten through second grades at Harman are going to Jennings Randolph Elementary School; grades three through five are at Midland Elementary; middle school students are at the Randolph County Technical Center, which houses older students; and high schoolers are attending classes at Elkins High.

Daniels has set up her office at Elkins High but has traveled daily to the other schools to coordinate daily needs. She said teachers in arts, music and physical education who deal with students in multiple grades will have to retool their schedules in order to travel to every school.

Daniels said she’s especially concerned for the students who have to endure twice-daily trips across three different mountains.

“As a parent, it’s really hard to send kids to four different schools and into schools you’re not familiar with,” she said.

After the collapse, Harman School lost 11 percent of its enrollment, Daniels said. Some parents decided to home school their children, while some students transferred to other schools.

“The rewarding part has been the generosity of the people at the four schools that we’re attending to give us room that I know they need to house our kids and be accommodating to helping us with this move,” Daniels said.

Daniels said she can’t fathom what it will be like if the current four-school plan continues into the region’s typical rough winter.

“It would be nice if our (state) government could realize what it’s like to go across three mountains that are 3,000 feet high in a bus with no seat belts, no roads that haven’t been treated and 25 kids on each bus,” she said.

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