Gov. Jim Justice is taking a wait-and-see approach to the possibility of West Virginia schools starting early this fall with students in classrooms fewer than five days a week.
“That’s a long way away,” the governor said today. “The situation is fluid. It changes all the time.”
The state school board on Wednesday heard beginning recommendations for starting the school year. The recommendations are subject to change, and local school districts would have latitude.
There were three scenarios described.
The first, intended particularly for younger children, would mean gathering in classrooms only four days a week with the fifth day designated for cleaning and sanitizing.
The second, for older students, would be a blend of learning in classrooms and off-site. The population of the school might determine how many days students spend on site.
The third, intended for the possibility of a virus surge, would mean not gathering in classrooms at all.
State school board President Dave Perry on Thursday asked the Department of Education to consider what aspects of state code — like personnel requirements, required time spent in classrooms or waivers for standardized testing — might need to be changed to contend with what’s to come this school year.
“We’d ask that you use that bully pulpit to present these ideas to the Governor’s Office,” Perry told state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch.
But Justice on Thursday said he is inclined to approve guidance from experts in the Department of Education.
“First and foremost, those people at our state Department of Ed and all the county superintendents and all the people involved in education, they’re doing a heck of a job. They’re really doing a heck of a job. And they’re going to protect our teachers, they’re going to protect our kids.
“From the standpoint of relying on the experts, that’s what I’m going to do,” Justice said.
He said, “I commend them on what they’ve done so far. So far it looks good to me.”
Justice, who is also a girls basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School, said he is prepared for school to be different next year than usual.
“From the standpoint of how’s school going to look — is it going to be a little different? Well, sure, it’s probably going to look a little different.”
Public schools students finished the year learning as best they could through a blend of online studies and packets provided by school systems. Nutrition programs also continued.
Burch said he is concerned about a resulting education gap.
“We already have this mountain we’re trying to hurdle, but here we are with children who potentially have not been in a classroom for five, five and a half months when we come back,” he said.
Burch today described the proposals for returning to the classroom when he appeared on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“We do believe in many cases we may need a four-day model,” Burch said, although he added that county superintendents have expressed additional ideas in recent days.
He said parents have expressed divergent views. Some embrace the day set aside for sanitizing. Others are concerned about childcare on days when children aren’t having school in classrooms.
State School Superintendent Clayton Burch talks with @HoppyKercheval about his newly permanent position and what the school year will look like. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/z5NWIBFrUF
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) June 11, 2020
Justice said the situation could change by fall.
“This is the first blush at what we need to do,” he said. “If things change to the bad side, you can bet things will have to be tighted up an awful lot. If things change to where we have a vaccine or a drug, we’ll celebrate and get back to normal.”