CHARLESTON, W.Va. — States like Maine, Maryland, Nebraska and Texas announced Monday they would be closing offices for the Day of Mourning to honor President George H.W. Bush.

Other states, like Delaware, went against tradition and decided not to shut state government at all.

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice made the announcement declaring a state holiday at 4:04 p.m. Tuesday.

Justice’s announcement sent parents of school children into a scramble, shutting down offices and courts abruptly and closing some colleges and not others.

After Bush’s death was announced late Friday night, Justice sent out a Saturday announcement that flags would be at half-staff in West Virginia until the end of this month.

Then the governor had a broad-ranging press conference starting about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, covering ground such as cabinet appointments and grant announcements.

But nothing was said about declaring a state holiday.

Brian Abraham

“The governor when presented with the issue consulted staff and some others, and he made the decision,” said Brian Abraham, general counsel for the governor. “If there was any issue about the lateness it would have been internal staff issues.

“When he was presented with the information, he evaluated it, he vetted it, discussed it. He reached out to some members of the Legislature to gauge the sentiment. Then we also advised that other states were doing the same thing. He made the decision to do it.”

The announcement from the Governor’s Office cited Justice’s admiration for the president’s military and public service.

“President George H.W. Bush was truly a great American military hero,” Justice stated.

“I concur with President Trump and his decision to declare December 5th as a National Day of Mourning and I am issuing an executive order to close all state agencies tomorrow in observance of his declaration.”

About the time the governor’s decision was announced, West Virginia media received confirmation from the state Department of Education that schools would be closed too.

“I got a call from Steve Paine who asked ‘Do you all feel we should follow the lead of the Governor’s Office?'” Abraham said, referring to the state Superintendent of Schools.

“I said, ‘You guys should be consistent with what you normally do.’ Steve made that decision and I wouldn’t fault him for it, because that’s what they normally do.”

Abraham added, “It’s the typical standard operating procedure when the governor declares a holiday most agencies follow suit.”

State Board of Education President Dave Perry told The Charleston Gazette-Mail that Paine called him around the time Justice made his announcement.

Perry told the newspaper that Paine wanted to close schools but also wanted to know whether Perry agreed. Perry did.

“I think he was a great American president, he was one of the remaining statesmen who was able to build consensus among the parties,” Perry told the newspaper.

An official statement from the Department of Education alluded to coordination with the Governor’s Office:

“In consultation with Governor Justice’s office, state Superintendent Paine determined that educators and school service personnel are public employees. Therefore, all public school systems in West Virginia will be closed December 5, 2018.

“This gives educators and school service personnel the opportunity to honor President Bush alongside other public employees and their federal counterparts.”

The governor’s announcement also prompted West Virginia’s court system to announce it would close, postponing hearings that had been scheduled.

Cities and counties also followed suit with their own announcements.

Some colleges, like West Virginia University, closed. Others, like Marshall University, made no such announcement.

The decisions, according to policy, are left to the universities, said Matt Turner, a spokesman for the Higher Education Policy Commission.

“The institutions decide their holiday schedule, and they make adjustments as they find necessary to accommodate student finals, residence hall schedules, etc.,” Turner said in a text message.

Abraham, like other state employees, had the day off for the observance. He was doing work, like answering questions about the Day of Mourning, though.

He was not sure if there was any public criticism aside from the questions he was receiving in a MetroNews telephone call.

He acknowledged it’s possible people were calling the Capitol to complain but there was no one staffed to receive the messages.

“I don’t know if we’ve got an answering machine out front that’s taking a bunch of calls,” he said.

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