CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday morning to discuss “in-person instruction options.”
The meeting follows Gov. Jim Justice’s new executive order allowing for full-time in-person instruction to resume in the state’s elementary and middle schools.
Justice signed the order back on Friday after announcing all school employees 50 and older who wanted a COVID-19 vaccine had received their second shots.
“From the status of our younger kids now–all the data shows, especially with all of the teachers 50 and above getting their second shots, all the data shows go to school,” Justice said.
High school in-person instruction would continue to be determined by the COVID-19 map color, according to the executive order. There are currently no counties in red on the map.
Justice urged and the state Board of Education mandated last month a return to in-person instruction but several county school districts decided to go with a blended model, where the student body is divided and students attend school twice a week and are on virtual the other two days. Justice said it’s time for the blended schedules to come to an end.
“We’ve poured money and money and money into our schools to try and make them safer. We have absolutely gone far beyond the call with vaccinating our teachers and service personnel and without any question we should be back in school,” Justice said Friday.
The state’s largest education unions, the West Virginia Education Association and American Federation of Teachers-WV both challenged the state School Board’s previous mandate but Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster rejected a temporary restraining order.
Some counties have already returned to five-day in-person schedules and other counties had planned to do so in early March. Justice said every day that goes by without in-person instruction is further hurting students.
“Kids are getting abused and troubled and are having all kinds of issues plus they are failing core classes,” Justice said. “The (state) Board of Education is going to have to make that call.”
Justice said parents who have previously chosen virtual for their children can stay virtual.
State School Superintendent Clayton Burch told members of the Senate Finance Committee last week that when all counties do return to in-person instruction there’s going to have to be a focus on the mental health of students after nearly a year of virtual instruction.
“We knew that children were struggling with isolation with virtual but really what hit home was when a group of students at Wyoming East High School had a conversation with me that the biggest issue right now seems to be mental health,” Burch said. “We continue to tell the schools to get ready. We’re going to have to tackle this issue.”