Liz McCormick Published

Teachers At A ‘Breaking Point,’ Union Tells W.Va. Board Of Education

School, Masks, Safety Measures, Teachers, Students

State education leaders continue to hear concerns regarding the reopening strategy of West Virginia’s public and private K-12 schools. Some parents are frustrated with the education model officials have adopted, such as the color-coded map and the back-and-forths between in-person and virtual settings as a result of virus spread, and some teachers are feeling stretched-thin.

At the West Virginia Board of Education’s monthly meeting Thursday, members heard from parent and public school teacher Rachel Kittle.

“I feel like West Virginia as a whole, from the State Board of Education to all of our school districts, we did not adequately plan and prepare for consistency across the state,” Kittle said. “We have some school districts going five days a week with early outs and delays. Some three days a week, four days a week, and there’s just no consistency across the board.”

Kittle decided to step back from teaching this fall so she could care for her toddler, but she also has a seven-year-old who is in first grade this year. She said her seven-year-old has “regressed tremendously” due to the schooling inconsistencies.

“That worries me as a parent, because I think, ‘well what’s going to happen in the future,’” she said. “She comes from a good home … she doesn’t have any kind of, you know, needs not being met … But what about our kids that don’t come from good homes?”

Board members also heard from Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, who highlighted the struggle teachers are facing in their classrooms.

Albert described teachers as at a “breaking point” — feeling overwhelmed by long hours and juggling learning settings.

“We have 104 teachers in Marion County, who are members of AFT, and they have filed a grievance, because they are being asked to do more than one job,” Albert said. “They’re being asked to teach face-to-face, and they’re being asked to do e-learning or virtual, remote learning. And they’re finding that it’s impossible. Their days are beyond extended.”

Albert said many teachers have identified hybrid schooling, where student groups take turns attending in-person and remote during a school week, as a potential remedy. He explained this model would allow teachers more time to plan.

“I know in some counties, they are doing the hybrid [model] where they have a day to do remote, but it’s also a day to kind of catch their breath,” he said.

Albert also noted that many teachers and parents have lost confidence in the color-coded school re-entry map, saying it doesn’t paint a true picture of coronavirus spread.

In Wednesday’s virtual press briefing with Gov. Jim Justice, the governor reported 885 new cases of the coronavirus within a 24-hour period — the highest record of new cases in the state since the pandemic began.

The governor, while he has not made any moves to add restrictions on the state, continues to encourage West Virginians to wear masks, social distance and get tested often for the coronavirus. Some other states however, including Utah and Massachusetts, have recently issued new statewide mandates, such as mask-wearing and a stay-at-home order respectively, due to virus surge.

It was also noted at the West Virginia Board of Education meeting that many school-related coronavirus outbreaks in the state have occured in music and health classes, and the majority of students who contract the virus are in special education. To-date, there are 118 cases of COVID-19 in 15 county school districts, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.

Homeschool Sports Changes

Board members, Thursday, also approved a policy following a public comment period on a new law that would allow homeschool students to play in public school sports after meeting certain requirements.

The issue has garnered heated debate in previous state legislative sessions, however, some states, such as North Dakota and Florida, allow homeschooled students to play sports with traditionally educated kids. Other states, like Ohio, require homeschoolers be allowed access to extracurricular activities in public school settings.

Under the new policy, homeschool students are only eligible if they have at least a 2.0 GPA, are enrolled in a virtual class in compliance with the county in which they would participate, and have been enrolled in homeschool for at least one academic year.

This policy comes from a bill that passed during the 2020 state legislative session and was signed by the governor in March.

There were 18 comments from 11 people during the written comment period, including teachers, parents, and a community member, but only minor editorial corrections were made. Of those 18 comments, eight were opposed to homeschool students having access to public school sports, while others criticized the number of eligibility requirements.

“I do not agree with allowing homeschooled students to play on public school athletic teams,” said commenter Melanie Meck. “To be eligible to participate in public school athletics, 6-12 grade students should be enrolled full-time in the local public school system. If public school education is not chosen, then community leagues should be the homeschool option.”

Another commenter, homeschool parent Theresa Dennison, felt differently.

“Thanks to the Dept. of Ed. and WVSSAC [West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission] for working with homeschool liaison, Jamie Buckland, in developing language necessary for our kids to be included,” said Dennison. “Many kids are finally getting to participate in sports and band, have fun, meet new friends, and learn in these non-academic endeavors.”

The policy will be effective in 30 days.