TAYLOR COUNTY—After a two-hour long meeting and much discussion among board members, the Taylor County Board of Education (BOE) made an official ruling about the county’s students returning to school.
During a special meeting called Saturday evening, the board made the official decision to move forward with the plans they had approved during their December 22 meeting. That plan includes a tiered approach to the return of Taylor County students to the classroom.
The new plan takes into account the county’s daily infection rate over a seven-day period, as well as the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources color metrics map.
“The safety and well-being of our students and staff has remained a top priority of the Taylor County Board of Education,” voiced Superintendent of Schools Christy Miller. “While we want to see our kids back in the classroom, we have to ensure that it will be safe to do so.”
According to the board, because of the number of cases the week prior to their decision, they deemed Taylor County to be in a red designation, but because the percent positivity was less than five percent, the county was able to move down a color to orange, making learning remote for students.
As part of the plan, the school system would remain remote for two weeks before being reviewed for possible movement in tiers.
During the meeting, the Taylor County BOE heard from Thomas Bane, a regional representative from the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), who spoke on behalf of educators in Taylor County.
“I want to stress first of all that it is the belief of myself, the Taylor County Education Association and the WVEA that local control should not be usurped by state control,” he said. “I understand the pressure being put on this board from the state regarding the West Virginia Board of Education’s recent decision to send students back to school. I find it to be a travesty that the state would strongarm a county into doing what they wish, when the county is being forced into doing something they don’t agree with.”
He voiced that he strongly urged the Taylor County BOE to reconfirm their plan to go fully remote when the map indicated its need. He said he believed the WVBE’s directive was politically motivated and unsafe for students to return to school.
However, Taylor County Parent Jay Taylor noted that both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and health officials had reported differently.
“The CDC and science says younger kids are rarely getting or transmitting COVID and need to be in school. Those who don’t want to be in school have the choice for virtual school,” Taylor explained to the board. “Furthermore, kids need to see that we obey authority and lawful orders. State law says county boards have to obey the state board. Scripture says we are subject to the governing authorities. When scientists, politicians, and scripture agree, then why do we want to listen to those who say little kids shouldn’t be in school, but then make trips to Vegas or other international spots.”
He insisted that the county board follow the state board’s motion and allow students to return to in-person instruction.
During the meeting, the BOE also heard from Brittany Everett, spokesperson for the Parents for Taylor County WV Students Returning to School Full Time Facebook group that includes over 200 parents wishing for a return to the classroom.
“We would like to formally ask that the Superintendent and the BOE void the tier plan that was approved on December 22 for the second semester of school because there have been too many variables that have changed since the time that it was approved,” Everett asserted.
“We also request that the Taylor County Board of Education follow the required guidelines for the removal of the blended remote learning options and the recommended guidelines of four-to-five in-person instruction days that was provided during the West Virginia Board of Education meeting held earlier this week.”
She said that it was during that meeting that the state board had the authority to make decisions regarding local boards, in accordance with the WV Constitution.
She reported to the board that in the surrounding area, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are currently down, vaccinations of teachers and school personnel were already underway, and an incredibly low transmission rate was recorded among students in a school setting during the first semester, leading to her urging that a return to school be allowed, with the provision of blended learning in place until vaccination efforts were completed.
“On a state BOE call, they stated that statistics show that when schools were remote or closed COVID cases were higher, because it allowed more time for students and staff to move about in their communities,” Everett noted. “I think that this solution accommodates everyone involved.”
After hearing from the three speakers, the board held a lengthy discussion about their thoughts on a return to school. Many members voiced that they were not comfortable with students returning to in-person instruction, because they felt it unsafe to do so.
After some additional conversation, board member John Taylor made a motion that aligned with the request of Everett.
“This is not the motion that I want to make, but one I feel that I have to make. We all stood in this room and took an oath to uphold the West Virginia Constitution, and I feel like this is the best solution,” he voiced.
Taylor’s motion stated that the school system would remove the remote learning option, and they would work to get students back in school four or five days a week, in accordance with the order set forth by WVBE.
When it came time to vote, board Member Melissa Garvin was in agreement, but members Melissa Knotts, Austin Upton and Clark Sinclair voted against the motion. Because the motion failed, Sinclair announced that the board would follow the plan they had previously adopted.