Justice says school preparations are meant to provide in-class or virtual options for families

Gov. Jim Justice says new guidelines about West Virginia’s return to school are meant to provide more options for families.

Governor Justice

“It’s centered around kind of a parents’ choice deal. We understand people are very concerned, and rightfully so,” Justice said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

Counties are working toward a mid-August deadline allowing either in-classroom options or virtual learning. If the spread of coronavirus necessitates, some school systems could have to transition to full distance learning.

“That’s what it’s all about with parents having a real choice.”

Justice on Wednesday announced additional aspects of the state’s school guidance, including a color-coded map that would depict the spread of covid-19 and whether conditions are adequate for in-school instruction.

The governor said state leaders are working on a metric to prompt changes among the red, orange, yellow and green status conditions but are not ready yet.

“If we get real hotspots breaking out, we’re going to have to go to 100 percent virtual learning in those counties,” Justice said.

Justice also described the rollout of 1,000 wifi hotspots in schools, colleges and libraries across the state. The hotspots are meant to increase internet access for students who are learning outside the classroom.

Installing those wifi hotspots will require pushing, the governor said, but he expressed confidence that it will be done in time for the start of school.

“In this situation, I don’t just shoot in the dark. Many, many experts have been vetted and have come to me and said we can do it,” he said.

He added, “Why haven’t we done this in the past?”

Finally, although the governor indicated during a Wednesday briefing that teachers might be able to opt for virtual instruction, state leaders are now clarifying that option is meant for educators who can demonstrate specific health concerns through a medical professional.

Clayton Burch

“I think we’re all concerned about going back to school, and I don’t think the governor’s intent was to say we all get to choose whether we go to work,” said state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch, also speaking today on “Talkline.”

But Burch says there will be some latitude, particularly with teachers with health concerns: “We need to be flexible. We need to work with that population.”

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump, who has been vocal in his desire to open schools this fall, said on “Fox and Friends” this week that older teachers who are vulnerable to the coronavirus should not return to schools that reopen in the fall

“If a teacher’s in a certain age group, I think they shouldn’t be going in and probably they’ll have to wait until the thing goes by,” Trump said.

Burch said counties, as well as individual families, need to be prepared with contingency plans if conditions aren’t right for in-school options.

The maps should provide a helpful overview of how the spread of virus might affect the school year, he said.

“It’ll allow those counties to monitor how safe it is in their communities,” he said.

For example, if a county moves off green, “We want to be very transparent that if you move up to yellow, we’re starting to see a few cases, we may have to go to more action.”

Orange would signal danger. And red would call a halt.

Burch said school system leaders want to avoid a yo-yo effect of bouncing between conditions to open, close, open, close.

“Our recommendation is when you reach a stage of red and you have to close schools it may be for a minimum of a certain number of weeks,” he said.

Both Justice and Burch expressed optimism that the school year will be able to go on, but they also indicated some realism about changing conditions.

“I’m going to be as optimistic as the governor,” Burch said.

But, “If those numbers reach a certain level, we’ve got to pivot.”

More News

School COVID-19 map: Six counties in red or orange for next week; 3 counties in new gold category
Remote instruction to continue in Kanawha, Monongalia counties among others.
September 19, 2020 - 5:44 pm
Fairmont State food worker, eight students test positive for coronavirus
Fairmont State University will be transitioning Pence Hall to a dedicated quarantine facility.
September 19, 2020 - 2:45 pm
Covid numbers improve slightly, but 11 deaths reported
Mingo County is the only county in red on the daily statewide alert map, but the official map dictating school status for next week isn't released until 5 p.m.
September 19, 2020 - 10:24 am
Alderson-Broaddus acknowledges 4 serious incidents tied to university
School acknowledged investigations into two sexual assaults and other crimes are underway
September 19, 2020 - 9:57 am