WEST VIRGINIA— On Wednesday, during his daily briefing, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced that the start date for public schools in all 55 counties would be pushed back to September 8.
While county school boards throughout the state have been diligently working toward the development of safe re-entry plans for their students and staff, who were set to begin the 2020-2021 school year in August, Justice believes that going back to school within the next few weeks is just not possible.
“To go back to school in two to three weeks would be preposterous,” he exclaimed. “With the uproar of recent cases, we need to buy some time.”
Justice shared that he and State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch, have been monitoring the situation and have thoroughly examined the school calendar to come to the confident conclusion that a later start date is not only possible, but will also be in everyone’s best interest.
“We have targeted the start date as September 8,” he declared. “We have looked it over again and again, and by starting on that day, we can still adjourn schools by the end of May 2021. We are confident that we can make this work.”
The governor went on to say that because the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever changing and evolving, that the longer school can be delayed, the more information that will be able to be collected, and more educated decisions can be made moving forward.
“We simply cannot and will not rush this,” Justice stated.
While parents across the state have voiced concerns for their children’s mental well-being as a result of not being able to return to school, both Justice and Burch recognize the importance of in person instruction, with Justice saying, “the ramifications for not going back to school are just horrible.”
Burch elaborated on the governor’s thoughts, remarking that the state’s counties have stepped up in ways he could never have imagined or predicted when it came to feeding students and efforts to keep them academically engaged.
“However, the fact remains that there is no substitution for in-person participation in school,” he voiced. “Students need to be in school, and teachers need to be teaching them. For too many of our children, this is more than a convenience because school is their survival zone. It is where they are fed, taught, nurtured, protected and prepared for life’s journey.”
Burch added to that statement with reassurance, that while returning to school is extremely important, it must be and will be done in the safest possible way.
The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) recently released a WV re-entry toolkit that breaks down what school may look like this fall.
The WVDE along with its more than 40 collaborative partners is working within nine focus areas including; instruction/learning, physical, social-emotional and mental wellness, career technical education, child nutrition, special education, safe schools and transportation, finance, extracurricular and technology.
The re-entry toolkit covers all components of a safe return to school this fall. From minimizing exposure by wearing face coverings, to breaking down how hybrid or blended learning might work, the toolkit contains all the information parents, students and school staff will need about what can be expected this fall.
It is noted that the guidance within the kit is subject to change as additional information regarding the spread and prevention of the Coronavirus becomes known.
The complete toolkit can be found by visiting, wvde.us/reentry.
“From my stand point, I have to look out first and foremost for the kids, teachers, service personnel and all those right down to the parents and everyone else involved with our kids,” Justice voiced. “At the end of the day I am going to do what I think is the best thing and most safe thing for our kids.”
He added that while he and his administration continue to work to plot the best possible course for the return to school, they will also be working closely with the WVSSAC regarding the fate of fall sports saying, “We need to push the start date back for high school football and other fall sports, as well. We will work with the WVSSA on this.”
Burch also wanted this reminder to be heard by parents and community members, “We understand that there are concerns and questions. We are working to address those concerns as best as possible. As a community, if we participate in the best health practices in school, at home and in our daily lives, we can reduce the spread of this disease.”