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Education

Students At W.Va. Schools For Deaf, Blind Move To Remote Learning After Devastating Fire; Investigation Continues

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West Virginia Department of Education
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State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch (center), Jason Baltic with the State Fire Marshal's office (right), and Michael Talbert of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (left) held a press conference Monday in front of what had been the administrative office of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. A large fire destroyed the building on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

Students attending the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind in Romney will be on remote learning this week following a devastating fire that destroyed the schools’ administrative building early Saturday morning.

No students or staff were harmed in the fire, and no students were on campus at the time of the incident. Officials say the building is a total loss, and the city of Romney is under a boil water advisory as a precaution until further notice.

The building dates back to the 1800s and housed historic artifacts. It was also the school superintendent’s residence and where all technology servers were located that powered the campus’ internet, phones and surveillance system.

“Thankfully, this is not a building that we utilize for our students,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch during a press conference Monday morning. “[But] this building has the entire campus’ internet phone system that is essential for our teachers to be able to reach our students, even while they're on remote [learning].”

Burch said with Gov. Jim Justice’s help, Frontier Communications, which is one of the leading internet service providers in the state, responded within six hours to arrive at Romney and find a solution.

“Within 24 hours, live lines ran for our tech guys to begin setting up a new system,” Burch said. “So today, teachers have access to phones, internet, which means we can connect with the students.”

Burch said the goal was to ensure there wouldn’t be disruptions to school.

Michael Talbert, the acting assistant special agent with the Washington field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was also present at the press conference. Talbert said the investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing and further comment cannot be made at this time.

“I have the utmost confidence … that we will be able to bring this to a reasonable conclusion in the next little bit through our large scale fire investigation,” Talbert said. “There's great work being done on this campus.”

Counseling services have also been offered to students. The schools serve 74 students and has 120 staff members.

Alerts about the fire on Saturday first came in around 6:12 a.m. Firefighters from several West Virginia volunteer fire companies responded to the scene, including Romney, Augusta, Springfield, Slanesville, New Creek, Fort Ashby, Burlington and Ridgeley.

Following news of the incident, Justice asked for prayers on Twitter and said, "This is absolutely heartbreaking news for the Romney community and all the staff, students, and alumni that are part of this great institution.”


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