Liz McCormick Published

Local Education Unions Claim Higher Numbers Of Coronavirus Cases In W.Va. Schools

Wooden classroom desks

A coalition of education union members from across the state claim that COVID-19 cases in West Virginia public schools are higher than what is being reported by the state Department of Education.

Members of the West Virginia United Caucus, which includes the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia Education Association, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, held a press conference Tuesday night over Zoom and Facebook Live to release numbers from their Covid Tracking.

The group claims that since schools opened Sept. 8, there have been at least 149 cases of the coronavirus in West Virginia schools from 41 counties.

This is in contrast with the West Virginia Department of Education’s COVID-19 outbreak map that, at this time, lists 26 cases in seven counties.

State officials say outbreaks are defined as two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff from separate households, within a 14-day period in a single classroom or core group.

But members of the West Virginia United Caucus take issue with these specifications, arguing the coronavirus could easily pass from one group to another if, for example, separate groups share a school bathroom.

Jay O’Neal, a Kanawha County teacher and member of the caucus, said the group made their own covid tracker to allow teachers and service personnel to anonymously report cases in case there were any concerns about retaliation.

“We’re very concerned,” O’Neal said. “We’d like to see a lot more transparency and some real actions to have some metrics that are objective and that really kind of reflect reality.”

O’Neal said the caucus vetted any reported cases, checking news sites or confirming with principals or boards of education.

In a recent virtual press briefing, Gov. Jim Justice was asked about the numbers provided by the West Virginia United Caucus. Justice said he didn’t know about the tracker and insisted that state officials are “working around the clock” to ensure the information they share is accurate and honest.

“I’m absolutely capable of making a mistake, but I am not capable of not telling you the truth,” Justice said. “So, I’m going to make sure the information that’s reported to people is truthful and transparent. And I hope to goodness that we won’t get parents acting upon rumors … I really believe that the results we’re putting out are transparent and on the money.”

Also, on Tuesday evening, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, released a statement saying the continued changes to the COVID-19 color-coded school map “go too far.” The statement went on to say the WVEA will be seeking an injunction.

“In the next few days our attorneys will be filing an injunction in Kanawha County Circuit Court challenging the continued changes made to the map and whether it has compromised the safety of the students and employees in our public schools,” Lee said. “Our injunction seeks to return the state’s color-coded map to reflect the intent of those national experts regarding the health and safety of our students and employees.”

The governor also responded to this move by the WVEA in a recent press briefing.

“I appreciate and respect people’s legitimate concern,” Justice said. “Now, I do not have any patience whatsoever with their political motives, and if that’s what this is, then I have no patience with that whatsoever.”