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Education

7 County School Systems Remain Remote As Teacher Union Prepares Injunction

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Seven county school systems in West Virginia opted to keep their students fully remote and virtual this week after the West Virginia Board of Education ruled that all counties should return to mostly in-person instruction.

Berkeley, Gilmer, Harrison, Jefferson, Marion, Monongalia and Taylor County schools chose to keep their students home this week for remote learning.

Gov. Jim Justice, in his latest virtual press briefing, praised the other 48 counties that sent students back to school in-person.

“Many of our superintendents have reported so far today that the first day back to school is going smoothly,” Justice said on Tuesday. “And they are really excited to have their children back and everything, so that's great stuff.”

Some counties, including Jefferson, are remaining virtual until all teachers and school service personnel can be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Jefferson has said it plans to resume in-person teaching on March 1. Other counties, such as Taylor and Harrison, are waiting to see how vaccine rollout goes and will reevaluate after a couple weeks or less.

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch informed West Virginia Board of Education President Miller Hall in a letter on Monday of the counties that chose to remain remote this week.

“I am submitting this letter to report the county boards of education that have not taken action to provide an in-person learning option for all students the week of Jan. 19, 2021, which the WVBE required,” Burch wrote. “It is my understanding several boards are meeting in the coming days to discuss further options or have published dates to return to in-person instruction beyond the date specified in the WVBE action.”

Burch also notified the WVBE that as of this week, 17 counties have chosen to provide four-to-five days of in-person instruction for families, and 31 counties have opted to begin with a blended model of at least two days of in-person learning each week.

The state school board voted unanimously last week to require pre-K through 8th grade to return to full, in-person school regardless of a county’s color on the state’s coronavirus map, which tracks coronavirus spread. High schools are also encouraged to return to in-person learning unless a county is marked red on the map. Some counties have opted to resume under a blended model of instruction -- some remote and some in-person.

In the WVBE’s ruling, officials also said that county school boards and county superintendents have the ultimate authority to work with their local health departments and decide what’s best for their districts.

State education leaders and the governor have held fast, however, and continue to push for children to be back in school for in-person instruction.

“A third of our kids are failing core classes,” Justice said on Tuesday. “The remote stuff doesn't work or is not working very well, and so with all that, we have to get them back in school. And the transmission rate, we know, by all the science, is almost zero [for children under age 15]. Now, we can't make it zero. We can't make it perfect … but absolutely, all the science tells us to go back to school.”

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia announced last week they would file an injunction sometime early this week against the state Board of Education, the Department of Education, and certain county boards of education for requiring counties to resume in-person learning. The union said the reason is “to protect the health and safety of school employees.”

A spokesperson with AFT-WV told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that the organization is finalizing details with its attorney and would be officially filing the injunction by the end of the day Tuesday or Wednesday this week.

Additionally, AFT-WV has indicated it will file an amicus brief in support of any county board of education that continues with remote-only learning until teachers and staff can be fully vaccinated.

The governor indicated in his latest press briefing that about 50,000 children in West Virginia remain in virtual school for the spring semester.

According to the West Virginia Department of Education, virtual is different from remote learning in that virtual is often a real-time, video conference with local teachers and classmates. However, this varies. The WVDE offers the West Virginia Virtual School to all 55 counties, which is asynchronous, and the teachers are often located out-of-state. Some West Virginia counties offer a local, virtual option, such as Jefferson Virtual Academy in Jefferson County, which is five days a week, real-time instruction over a video platform with a local teacher from a student's school.

Remote learning, as defined by the WVDE, is often self-paced without face-to-face instruction. Some West Virginia teachers have argued, however, this is not always the case and varies per county or even per classroom.

All 55 county school systems and all grade levels still have access to a virtual school option, according to the WVDE, whether that's the state's West Virginia Virtual School, a local option or both.

**Editor's Note: This article was edited on Jan. 20, 2021 to clarify the differences between virtual and remote learning.


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