CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education will permit 14 county school districts to continue in-person instruction under four-day-a-week schedules for the rest of the school year.
Board members had a long, detailed discussion about the waivers at their meeting Wednesday. The waivers were granted earlier this year to the systems after the state board had ordered all counties back to five-day-a-week in-person instruction in connection with the pandemic.
The board took no formal vote Wednesday.
State Board President Miller Hall said Wednesday he wanted the waivers lifted and the counties to return to full schedules for the roughly six weeks remaining in the academic year.
“We are struggling with education and as much as possible we need to get those students in school, in-person, as best as we can. To me, it’s a great benefit,” Hall said.
But other members, including Debra Sullivan, said the school districts “have figured things out” and to make them switch back now would create a burden.
“We have six weeks of school left and to throw a monkey in the works right now and force people to change—I don’t know if that’s wise,” Sullivan said.
Hall said he constantly talks to students and they are concerned.
“I know kids and I know some of them are not getting a good education. How do I know? They tell me,” Hall said.
Sullivan said she’s visited Logan and Upshur counties in recent weeks and observed four day schedules that appear to be working well.
The fifth day is used for cleaning or for teachers, who do in-person instruction, to spend time in virtual education efforts. Also in some counties, students come to the building on the fifth day to receive special services which include tutoring.
“They’re on a plateau right now and sometimes being on a plateau is okay for the moment,” Sullivan said.
The counties include Braxton, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Lewis, Logan, Marion, Mason, Mingo, Preston, Ritchie, Roane, Summers and Upshur. Most of the waivers are for grades Pre-K through 8 but there are some counties that also have waivers for their high schools.
Board member Dr. James Wilson said he supports full-time instruction but it’s probably too late to lift the waivers this school year.
“At this point it’s not worth the aggravation, what’s going to go through if we’re going to something where we’re enforcing strictly the five-day,” Wilson said.
Several board members discussed concerns about broadband access in connection with students learning virtually.
Board member Dr. Daniel Snavely said he was “puzzled by the numbers.” He noted Logan County had the highest number of virtual students at more than 40% while Nicholas and Braxton counties, which are also operating under the waiver, only have a little more than 1% of their students under the virtual option.
The board was told many students are being raised by their grandparents who have been very reluctant to send their children back to school.
Several board members, including former board president Tom Campbell, said a full schedule of in-person instruction would be the priority when school resumes in the fall.
“In my perspective let’s continue to try to encourage five days now but we expect five days in the fall,” Campbell said.
Hall said he wanted to make it clear what would be expected in the 14 waiver counties and all other counties when school resumes after the summer break.
“Come fall, five days a week,” Hall said.
Department of Education Communications Director Christy Day said the discussion would continue over the summer.
“The WVBE will be looking closely at the causes behind the four-day instructional model moving into the fall to ensure all counties are prepared for five days of in-person instruction,” she said.