TAYLOR COUNTY—Governor Jim Justice made an announcement that he would be doing away with the West Virginia State Department of Education’s (WVDE) color-coded metrics map, and that as of January 19, all students in the state’s elementary and middle schools would be returning to school.
While the governor reported that cases continue to rise, and the state has reached a record high number of COVID positive patients in the hospital, the daily positivity rate remains high and most of the counties are still within a red or orange color designation on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services (WV DHHR) County Alert System Map, finding a way to get kids back in school has been a top priority of his.
The governor shared that there had been a great deal of collaboration between his office, the health teams, medical professionals and education teams to come up with ideas for the return of students to in-person instruction.
“We have got to get our kids back in school. That’s just all there is to it,” Justice voiced. “All across this nation, there are states with far, far worse numbers than we have, and they are finding ways.”
According to Justice, during the first semester of the 2020 school year, the COVID-19 transmission rate among students in the state’s schools was just 0.02 percent and 0.3 percent among staffers.
He said that if students and staff were to return to the school setting, he would recommend very sternly that the staff follow the proper guidelines and adhere to certain protocols.
“We have got to keep the mask wearing and social distancing going because the staff’s transmission rate is phenomenally higher than anything to do with the kids,” Justice voiced.
And while officials have tried to do the best they could for students with alterations to learning models, it just simply isn’t working out to the advantage of the children.
“This comes directly from the department of education: in the first semester, one third of our students are receiving failing grades in at least one of their core classes,” Justice reported. “The virtual learning models do not work for most students without consistent, live engagement from a teacher from a student’s own school.”
Another factor that came into play when the governor was forced to make a decision regarding in-person instruction was the safety and wellbeing of students outside of a school setting.
“The WV DHHR has reported that there is a reduction in Child Protective Services referrals by an average of 50-54 percent a month. What that means is just this, for the kids to which bad things are happening, we are not even getting it reported now,” Justice voiced. “We have a bunch of kids out there who are really, really suffering. What are you going to do for all the ones falling through the cracks?”
With the consideration of all of the information presented by various entities involved in the decision-making process, it was decided that getting students back in school was the best option.
Beginning January 19, students in grades pre-K through eighth grade will return to in-person instruction five days each week. Additionally, those youths in grades nineth-twelfth will also return to in-person instruction, if and only if the county is not in a red classification.
However, in counties where teachers are providing direct virtual instruction to their own students, special allowances will be made for four-day learning models.
In the two weeks from January 4-15, students will move to a remote learning so that educators can begin preparations for the return to in-person learning.
Parents who wish for their children to remain on a complete virtual learning option will still be able to do so, regardless of the changes to in-person learning.
State Superintendent of School Clayton Burch voiced that when proper protocols are followed, a return to school is safe for students.
“The research shows it is safe to restore the in-person learning model for parents that chose this option for the children,” said Burch. “We also know students are suffering because of the lack of in-person instruction. Student social and emotional well-being has suffered. We simply have to get our students back in school, in-person.”
It was noted that teachers will soon be receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations. Those teachers in Taylor County wishing to receive the vaccine will need to reach out to Superintendent of School Christy Miller for more information on vaccine administration.