TAYLOR COUNTY— On Wednesday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced that while the situation surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic is extremely fluid, it is still his intention for all West Virginia schools to welcome students back on September 8.
While Justice is hopeful that this proposed date will stick, he was sure to reiterated the fact that this situation is ever changing and evolving, meaning plans for re-entry could quickly change.
“This situation is absolutely fluid. We have to be prepared to move and change and pivot in this situation,” Justice declared, “And it is absolutely an enormous undertaking to have a flexible plan in place to cover any and all changes.”
He revealed that with guidance from the state’s education and health leaders, a multifaceted metric plan is being developed and will be put into place for the reopening of all preschool through twelfth grade schools across the state.
Through this newly developed plan, multiple schooling options will be provided and students, parents and educators will have access to many helpful resources as they navigate the return to education.
“We want to offer total optionality,” Justice voiced. “If you feel that your child should not be at the school, then we are going to make that child, along with all the children’s education that choose not to come to schools, virtual; and we will absolutely deliver quality education to them for the time period that they decide not to come to school.”
Although the governor did not release specific details to the metric plan for school re-entry, noting that the finalized plan is up and coming within the next 10 to 14 days, he did share that the metric plan will run off a color coated system, on a county by county basis.
Each county, based on the their current number of active cases and positivity rates, will be assigned a color within the system; green, yellow, orange and red.
Justice didn’t elaborate on each of these stages yet, but did note that counties falling within the green label will be given the go ahead to conduct in person five day a week schooling, while those with higher numbers, landing in the red category, will be limited to virtual learning.
Yellow indicated that a county is experiencing moderate community transmission and increased restrictions may become necessary. Counties will fall under orange when they are experiencing higher community spread and additional restrictions will be set into place.
As the school year progresses, he said that the numbers for COVID would be continuously monitored and watched extremely closely in each county.
“This will all work on a county by county basis. Rather than closing down schools across the state if we are only seeing a spike in one or two counties, we will be working with the superintendents of each school board as to what the very best plan for their county, students and teachers will be as we move forward,” said Justice.
In addition, it was made public that all 55 counties are required to submit their re-entry plans to the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) no later than Friday, August 14.
It is mandatory that county plans offer multiple options for instruction, including in-person, virtual and a hybrid model.
“Again, we want parents and guardians to have the flexibility to select the option that works best for them and their families,” Justice recapped.
In a press release from the governor’s office, each of the options for school was elaborated on, explaining that in-person instruction and any hybrid models will place students in the classroom for a set number of days bases on each county’s re-entry plan, clarifying that the hybrid option, generally, will feature reduced days or even reduced hours of in-person instruction and will be combined with virtual learning.
Virtual learning will serve as an option for those who have concerns about their children going back to school. Virtual education will require complete online learning with broadband or wifi access being necessary.
Submission of re-entry plans also must include how the schools propose to minimize exposure, and how they will work to implement the best health practices such as social distancing, face covering, hand washing and sanitizing protocols.
Additionally, each county must have a plan in place for feeding children daily, regardless of the instruction type that they choose, and they must continue to provide support services for students who may require additional assistance.
Justice also announced that with a little over 40 percent of the state being unable to access broadband for their virtual learning, he has committed $6 million to the Kids Connect Program.
“This program will ensure that all students in our state have access to our broadband,” he added.
He proclaimed that over 1,000 wireless locations will be installed across the state before September 8. Of those 1,000 locations, 688 of them will be at K-12 schools, public libraries will house 255, higher education sites will host hot spots adding 32 more locations and another 31 are being installed at West Virginia State Parks.
“This will enable our students who don’t have access to go to one of these locations and get their assignments or whatever else they might need,” Justice shared. “If they don’t have a laptop or tablet, what we want to do is be able to provide one for every kid in this state.”
Justice concluded by saying, “There is no chance in the world, to the best of my abilities, will I put a kid, a teacher, our service personnel or anyone into a situation that is unsafe. We are going to work together to keep our numbers down, and we’re going to do everything we can to deliver a quality education to all of our kids.”