Liz McCormick Published

County School Boards Push Back As State Plans In-Person Classes, Limits Remote Learning

Wooden classroom desks

Many brick-and-mortar schools in West Virginia are reopening next week after an executive order from the governor and approval of the plan Wednesday by the state school board. The plan was met with push back, however, from some teachers and county school districts.

Fully remote learning will no longer be an option for West Virginia’s pre-K through 8th grades, starting next week. Virtual schooling, which is different from remote, will remain.

Members of the West Virginia Board of Education in their monthly meeting approved a motion outlining the parameters for both public and private K-12 schools as they resume in-person teaching.

Starting Tuesday, pre-K through 8th grade will attend in-person school regardless of a county’s color on the state’s coronavirus map. County superintendents and county school boards, though, have the ultimate authority to work with their local health departments to close school and adjust as necessary.

Fully remote learning, which means students fulfill studies on their own time and often without face-to-face instruction, will no longer be permitted at the pre-K-8 level.

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch said this learning model doesn’t work efficiently and creates too many gaps in a child’s education and well-being.

“We can’t say remote learning and handing a packet of papers to a child on Monday is any form of education,” Burch said. “I think during the governor’s [spring] executive order, we were under a health emergency. We allowed and talked about remote learning and how to possibly just fill that gap during an emergency, but now I’m really, really concerned where we’re headed if we continue to talk about remote.”

Students in pre-K through 8th grades will still have access to virtual school though, and Burch acknowledged some counties, like Kanawha, Upshur, Ohio, Wood and Jefferson, have robust virtual options.

Virtual is different from remote, in that students are often in a real-time video conference with a teacher and classmates, mirroring an in-person classroom.

Board members agreed with Burch, including West Virginia Board of Education President Miller Hall, who gave a passionate speech saying the state can’t afford not to send children back to in-person school. He added that it could result in the loss of “an entire generation” of student education.

“Remote learning is not teaching,” Hall said. “But here’s the problem, it’s not equity, because some of them don’t have a computer. Some of them can’t do it. Some of them, if they had [a computer], still wouldn’t do it. How do I know? Because I’ve been to the homes. I’ve traveled all across the state … They need to be in-person.”

Some West Virginia teachers took to social media during the meeting denouncing the claim that remote learning isn’t teaching, arguing that they worked hard this fall to make this model work when it was necessary.

Board members were made aware of comments and walked back the statement that remote learning isn’t teaching, but maintained that the remote model can no longer be an option for young students.

West Virginia’s coronavirus health team has said transmission of COVID-19 among children under age 15 is “very low.” Burch told board members that throughout the fall semester, transmission of the virus was 0.2 percent among children, while among teachers, it was 0.3 percent.

“When schools move to remote settings, we oftentimes saw spikes in the community transmission rate,” Burch said.

New parameters for high school have also changed.

High school will be held in-person, unless a county turns red on the state’s coronavirus map. High schools are permitted to keep remote-style learning but are still encouraged to have in-person as much as possible. For example, creating a blended model of instruction — attending in-person two days a week, while the other days would be remote.

All grade levels, pre-K-12, will still have access to a virtual school model if families don’t feel comfortable with in-person.

Some county school boards, such as Kanawha and Berkeley, have already decided on reentry plans for next week. Kanawha County Schools have opted to use a blended model, while Berkeley County Schools have voted to remain in remote and virtual models until teachers have been vaccinated for the coronavirus.

Burch said by the end of the day Friday, at least 19,000 teachers and school service personnel over age 50 are expected to have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Mask-wearing and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts will continue to be required in all grades, regardless of vaccine status.