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Education

State Board Of Education Mandates In-Person Classes For Elementary, Middle Schools

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The West Virginia Board of Education meets on Tuesday in Charleston.

The West Virginia Board of Education voted on Tuesday to mandate elementary and middle school students return to five days a week of in-person instruction by March 3.

The board also voted for high-schoolers to return to the classroom in counties that are not marked red on the Department of Health and Human Resource County Alert map.

“We understand all the concerns related to going back to school,” said Miller Hall, state board president. “We know teachers and school staff are working hard and are concerned about safety measures, but so are we. Anybody who thinks we are not concerned about the safety of our young people, they are wrong.”

Thirty-eight counties currently offer four or five days a week of in-person instruction, according to the Department of Education website. If they want to continue with the four-day model that allows a day for local virtual instruction, counties will have to apply for a waiver.

Hall emphasized that this decision follows state and national data showing little to no classroom transmission.

“This is not he said, she said, or hearsay,” said Hall. “This is data.”

State coronavirus czar Clay Marsh spoke to the board this week and said that with proper masking and distancing, elementary and middle school classrooms are safe for teachers and students.

“I think it is reassuring that with the appropriate mitigation strategies, we just don't see the spread in the classroom,” he said.

A state team of epidemiologists has learned from last year’s data that any transmission happening between teachers and students is in an environment where masks are not or cannot be worn, he said.

“We're seeing spread on sports teams,” Marsh said. “We're seeing spread in meetings between adults and lunches where people aren't really as careful with masking.”

Special education classes where students are unable to wear a mask and music class where students are singing or playing instruments in an enclosed area also led to transmission, Marsh said.

There is also evidence of individuals becoming infected at home by a family member or in the community and bringing that illness into the school, Marsh added.

He also clarified that while six feet is recommended, recent medical studies from Asia show three feet can be sufficient with proper mask-wearing.

Across the state, cases of COVID-19 are at the lowest point since the fall and the percentage of vaccinated West Virginians continues to lead the nation.

Almost 75% of teachers over the age of 50 have been vaccinated in Wyoming County, and the county board there voted Monday to return to the classroom five days a week.

“We've had so few cases of Covid in our schools,” Superintendent Deirdre Cline said Friday to the Wyoming County Report. “Our county has been green all week. We feel like our schools are doing a phenomenal job with the safety guidelines – wearing masks, social distancing, hand-washing. Our people and parents want the children back full-time. It's time to move.”

Vaccines have been made available to teachers and service personnel over the age of 50. Marsh said the state is currently prioritizing the senior population but as more vaccines become available, educators under 50 and the rest of the essential workforce will be eligible for vaccinations.

“The key part of this is that we are not vaccinating teachers and service personnel because it's not safe to be back in the classroom,” Marsh said. “We are doing this or recommending this as an additional safeguard for them to be in the classroom.”

In Preston County, students returned to four days a week of in-person instruction yesterday, with online classes on Fridays. In comments to the Dominion Post, Superintendent Steve Wotring laid out simple reasoning.

"It’s just time,” he said.


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