Some School Districts Say They Won’t Return To In-Person Classes Next Week, Awaiting Full Vaccinations
West Virginia’s pre-K through 12th grade students are set to resume in-person school next week. But some counties are opting to remain virtual until teachers can be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Among those are Berkeley and Jefferson County schools, which plan to remain in virtual and remote-style-only learning models until all teachers and school service personnel can receive the required two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
Jefferson County Schools announced Thursday in an emergency meeting that students will not be in physical classrooms again until March 1.
"While we all agree that most students learn best in a physical classroom with a trained and caring teacher, we cannot put that ahead of safety,” Jefferson County Schools said in a statement. “Based on the latest information from the Jefferson County Health Department, as well as feedback from JCS staff, the Jefferson County Board of Education determined that remote learning was the best way forward right now. They plan to revisit the decision regularly should any current conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic change."
Following an executive order issued by the governor on Monday, the West Virginia Board of Education ruled on Wednesday that pre-K through 8th grade would no longer be allowed to offer full, remote learning. This option remains, however, for high school as long as high schools attempt a blended model of instruction -- where students spend some days a week in a physical classroom and the others at home.
Still, high schools are also encouraged to be fully in-person, unless a county is red on the state’s coronavirus map.
Virtual school, which is different from remote, is still available in all 55 counties and for all grade levels.
The state school board also ruled that county superintendents and county boards have the ultimate authority to work with their local health departments to determine what’s best for their districts.
But Gov. Jim Justice made it clear in his Friday afternoon virtual press briefing that he did not think the path being taken by Jefferson and Berkeley counties was the right one.
“I think, without question, they ought to be back in school,” Justice said. “But I think that it’s going to be completely up to them.”
The governor’s coronavirus health team has said that children under age 15 do not transmit the virus at the same rate as children who are high school-age or adults. Justice again pointed this out in his press briefing.
“All the health experts, all the scientific research says that the transmission possibilities from 8th grade down is next to nothing,” Justice said. “If we don't go to school, then our kids are failing, our special needs kids need us. Without any question whatsoever, we have all kinds of abuse and situations that we can, we can really help our kids if we're in school.”
Following the state Board of Education’s ruling to require in-person learning for pre-K through 8th grade, on Thursday, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia announced it plans to file an injunction against the state Board of Education, the Department of Education, and certain county boards of education early next week.
The reason is “to protect the health and safety of school employees” from the coronavirus, the union said.
The AFT-WV applauded school districts that have already chosen to remain with remote and virtual learning. The union is urging more districts to follow this example and remain fully remote until all teachers can receive both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
The governor said in response to the move by AFT-WV that if “unions are pressuring weak board of education members” and they decide not to have in-person schooling, then those local school boards will “have to deal with consequences from the [state] Board of Education.”