Liz McCormick Published

Board Cancels Meeting On In-Person Schooling Penalties As Teacher Unions Continue Push-Back On Ruling

Elementary Classroom

The West Virginia Board of Education canceled a meeting that was scheduled Tuesday morning to address counties that did not initially comply with a ruling to return to in-person learning.

The meeting was scheduled to address counties that voted to remain in remote-only instruction. But last week, Gilmer, Taylor and Marion agreed to offer an in-person option — making them the last of the state’s 55 counties to comply with the state board’s demands.

State school board President Miller Hall said in a press release that he was pleased all counties were now back in buildings, and he said mitigation efforts, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, to combat the spread of COVID-19, would continue.

“We know more about this virus than we did when schools moved to remote learning in March 2020,” Hall said in the press release. “And when we are diligent to follow the key mitigations such as mask-wearing, we know our children are safe in our schools.”

Health officials say children under age 15 do not transmit or become infected with the coronavirus at the same rate as adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently reported that spread of the coronavirus in schools where mitigation efforts are being followed is very low.

Members of the state BOE and the West Virginia Department of Education say they continue to work closely with state health officials to monitor the health and safety of West Virginia schools and the needs of students.

Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch said the lack of in-person instruction, school support and daily structured activities are disruptive to learning and are harmful to the most vulnerable children.

“As the state superintendent, I cannot single-handedly erase the impact of the many adverse childhood experiences facing these children,” Burch said. “However, together with the state board, we can make sure our school doors are open to those children relying on the consistent and undeniable benefit of in-person instruction.”

At an emergency meeting last week, state board members considered the remaining three counties that still had not opened physical schools. At that meeting, members were presented with possible penalties they could impose if counties did not offer an in-person option, such as withholding state aid or bringing legal action against a county. Board members did not vote on penalties, instead opting to allow the remaining counties to come up with a solution by Jan. 26 that would put those counties in line with the mandate passed by the state board on Jan. 13.

Under that ruling, schools are no longer allowed to offer fully remote learning for pre-K through 8th grade — regardless of the county’s color on the state’s coronavirus map. High schools are encouraged to attend in-person as well, but only if a county is not labeled red on the map.

West Virginia’s two largest teacher unions, the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, are urging judges to slow or halt reopening more classrooms — demanding that school workers be given the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine before being forced to return to in-person instruction.

A hearing regarding the injunctions began Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

The West Virginia Board of Education will meet again for its regular session on Feb. 10, 2021 in Charleston.