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Teachers union announces plans to sue over West Virginia’s back-to-classrooms move

One of West Virginia’s big teachers unions announced it will file an injunction over a state decision to largely eliminate remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia made the announcement today, saying the filing will occur soon.

The union said its filing would be against the state school board, the state Department of Education and several county boards of education “to protect the health and safety of school employees.”

West Virginia’s state school board unanimously passed a motion Wednesday that would prevent county school systems from opting for remote learning after Jan. 19, countermanding decisions that had already been made by several local boards.

The motion would, however, allow boards to select hybrid schedules with students in classrooms just a couple days a week and learning outside the class the other days.

High schools still would be shut down if the state’s map of coronavirus spread turns red. That would not apply for schools at the PreK to 8th grade levels. County leaders could shut individual schools or classrooms over health concerns.

Families who have opted for remote learning, which is different, may still make those individual choices.

board motion

The state board settled on the specifics after a couple of hours of discussion.

Impassioned remarks came from state board President Miller Hall.

Hall indicated some students who are supposed to be learning remotely are opting not to do the work because their parents can’t make them. “Remote learning is not what it’s cut out to be,” he said.

He added, “If we wait until this virus ends, we may never go back to school.”

West Virginia’s map of coronavirus spread shows all but two counties on orange or red, the highest levels of virus.

The state guidance came as many counties had already started making local plans.

Kanawha County’s board had just decided Wednesday morning to remain on remote learning until Feb. 8, although the local board included a provision allowing a change depending on the state board’s actions. That would mean implementing a blended schedule now that the state board has weighed in.

The Monongalia County’s school board voted Tuesday night to stay remote until Feb. 12. Today on WAJR Radio, Monongalia Superintendent Eddie Campbell said the county would ask for a waiver, considering unique aspects of being a major college community. If the waiver is rejected, a hybrid schedule would commence.

“We need to give our teachers an opportunity to readjust to coming back to school January 21st,” Campbell said. If that’s what we’re told we have to do.”

Campbell addressed the possibility of a community outbreak that might lead to calls to keep schools closed.

Of the state board, he said, “They do have the authority over us to order us back to school. But they didn’t really outline what would occur if a school system chose not to follow that guideline.”

Listen to “Dave & Sarah | January 14, 2021” on Spreaker.

Preston County voted Monday night to continue remote learning until Feb. 8. On MetroNews’ “Talkline” today, Preston County Superintendent Steve Wotring suggested different counties may have different needs.

“Every county is different. We’ve got some very large counties and we have some very small counties,” Wotring said. “I really think honestly it has to be an individual decision of what works best for kids in every single county.”

Just hours after the state board finalized its guidance, Berkeley County’s school board deviated by deciding to remain on a remote schedule until all faculty and staff have had two doses of vaccine, estimated to be late February or early March.

“Our intent is to take a cautious and gradual approach to resuming normal, five-day instruction,” Berkeley Superintendent Patrick Murphy said in an overview to the community.

But there were some indications the county’s approach wasn’t totally attuned to the state board’s guidance.

A spokeswoman for the school system today told WEPM Radio: “The decision made last evening was made with the best information available at the time. The new information from the State Board of Education is being reviewed. If we need to reevaluate, we will.”

AFT-WV, in its statement today, applauded Berkeley County’s initial approach.

“The union applauds the Berkeley County Board of Education for their bold leadership and encourages other boards to follow suit and exercise their legal right to make decisions for counties,” AFT-WV stated.

The union said it would file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of any county board of education that continues to assert its legal right to govern its own local school system.

Referring to the state board, the union stated, “Appointed policy makers issuing in-person learning mandates to local boards, who are duly elected by the citizens of their counties to govern their local schools, is an incredible overstepping of authority.

“To make such a decision while meeting virtually and behind closed doors is astoundingly tone deaf.”

Speaking today on the “Watchdog” radio network, West Virginia Education Association president Dale Lee made a similar point.

“How do these appointed school board officials think that they know more than the locals and the health departments?” Lee asked.

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