West Virginia educators are working toward reopening of the state’s public schools on Tuesday, September 8. That is the new date set by Governor Jim Justice, delaying the previously scheduled start dates in August, to give the schools extra time to prepare for class during the pandemic.
State School Superintendent Clayton Burch says they are using the additional time to try to cover every possible scenario and safety measure as children return to the classroom for the first time in nearly six months.
The checklist is extensive, Burch told me on Talkline last week, “Everything from transportation to cafeterias to the classroom itself.” All 55 county school systems have until August 14 to submit their re-entry plans to the State Department of Education.
A summary of models adopted by other countries that have already reopened schools shows a number of different measures to try to keep students, teachers and staff safe—face masks, reduced class size, physical distancing, keeping students in defined groups, limiting interaction among groups, staggered start times and alternate instructional days, to name a few.
One of the most encouraging findings is that “Reopening of schools for all students in countries with low community transmission (Denmark and Norway) has not resulted in a significant increase in the growth rate of Covid-19 cases.”
However, researchers also found that in countries with higher levels of community transmission (such as Israel and Germany) reopening schools did result in an increase to outbreaks.
Naturally, the best place for children to learn is in the classroom, but thousands of West Virginia students are going to opt for remote learning. That works better for some students than others, according to Jered Borup, associate professor in learning technologies at George Mason University.
“What we’re finding in the research thus far is it’s generally harder to keep students engaged with virtual lessons,” Borup told the New York Times.
The challenges of remote learning become even greater in West Virginia because of a lack of adequate Internet connectivity in many communities. Additionally, if the parent or parents are not involved in a child’s education, remote learning becomes even harder because there is no reinforcement.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pressing school systems across the country to reopen because what is best for the children should be the priority.
“As we talk about schools reopening again, it seems to be centered more around adult needs and issues than it is about what’s right for the kids” she told Fox News. “We clearly have to follow guidelines around hygiene, wearing masks when appropriate and ensuring that teachers have distance and protection, but this can be done.”
As has been the case here and in other countries, we are figuring it out as we go along. But the goal for everyone should be the same—finding a safe and reasonable way to have children in school.