TAYLOR COUNTY—During the Friday press briefing concerning COVID-19, Governor Jim Justice announced that he wanted students to make a full return to the classroom.
The announcement came after numerous discussions with members of the West Virginia pandemic response leadership team, as well as other state leaders regarding the declining number of COVID-19 cases and the rising number of vaccinated West Virginians, according to Justice.
The governor stipulated that he would be calling on the West Virginia Board of Education to make it mandatory that all counties send their students in grades Pre-K-8 back full-time.
“On a standpoint of Pre-K through eighth grade students, I am signing an executive order that all of those students in all of our 55 counties should be in school,” he declared.
The West Virginia State Board of Education (WVBE) met on Tuesday morning to discuss the matter.
After a lengthy discussion with Coronavirus Czar, Doctor Clay Marsh, the board heard that a safe return could be made to the classroom. During their meeting, Marsh noted that in order to return to school, mask wearing and social distancing would still be a top priority.
Marsh noted that there were differing thoughts issued on the matter of social distancing, but it was his professional opinion that students, who were masked up, could be placed anywhere from three to six feet in distance from one another.
“As far as a contact tracing standpoint, we would still have to utilize the six-foot rule,” Marsh noted. “So, in the event of an infection, we would still need to know who all was within that six-foot distance.”
He also disclosed that all school personnel and teachers over 50 years of age who opted to receive the vaccination had received both doses of the serum, and that vaccination efforts were continuing for educators.
The WVBE held a brief discussion where President Miller Hall expressed, “After hearing from Dr. Clay Marsh today and hearing your questions, it is crucial to discuss where we go from here. We are charged with making decisions regarding all students. Did you notice I said all?”
He said that their main goal was to keep both students and school staff safe.
“We know that teachers and school staff have been working very hard and are concerned with safety measures. If anyone thinks that we aren’t concerned about the safety of our young people, they are wrong,” voiced Hall. “I was once a teacher, and I know about that struggle.”
He said it was imperative that everyone work together as a team, saying that right now, things seem fragmented. He said that all protocols would need to be followed.
When addressing the issue of those who fail to adhere to the guidelines, Hall said, “I know three-year-olds and four-year-olds who are going to school, and they’re wearing masks. If they can do it, we can do it. For those who don’t follow these mitigation strategies, shame on you! Wear your masks!”
He reported that the state has over 37,000 employees in the school system, and 21,400 have received shots. Over 51 percent of all personnel had received the vaccination by the time the meeting was held, according to Hall.
Following the discussion, the WVBE mandated that all students in grades Pre-K through eighth would return to the classroom five days a week, regardless of the county’s color on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources County Alert System Map.
The order further stated that county boards would no longer have the option to implement full countywide remote learning for students in those grades.
However, if the need arises, the local boards would be permitted to work alongside local health officials to close individual classrooms or schools for a limited amount of time to address the issue.
Counties who are providing both in-person and locally designed virtual programs would be permitted to submit a waiver to the state superintendent to reduce in-person instruction to four days per week.
As always, parents will still have the option for complete virtual learning for their children, if they wish to go that route.
These changes will go into effect beginning March 3.
The Taylor County Board of Education was set to have a meeting Tuesday evening, and a return for Taylor County students would be discussed. Look for their decision in the Saturday edition of the Mountain Statesman.