Eric Douglas Published

W.Va. Elementary, Middle Schools To Reopen For In-person Learning Jan. 19

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Citing lessons learned from the fall semester, Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday at his regular news conference that West Virginia elementary and middle schools will open to in-person learning on Jan. 19.

High schools will continue to be subject to the color coded map with counties in red required to use virtual learning.

Schools will continue virtually from the start of school on Jan. 4 until Jan. 19, 2021, with that time frame being used to prepare classrooms for the return of students to in-person learning. Students who choose to remain on virtual learning after Jan. 19 can still use that option.

The governor added that his new directive for schools was not an order, and that local school systems will retain local control.

“I don’t think I have the authority, and I don’t want the authority, to make that an order,” he said.

Justice indicated that there are several reasons for the return to school despite the increasing numbers of Covid infections across the state. He said one-third of students are failing at least one of their core classes using the virtual learning method.

“We all know that we are failing at virtual learning,” he said. “It does not work without consistent live engagement.”

He also indicated that child protective services referrals are down 50 to 55 percent, meaning that students in troubled environments are not being protected.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, indicated that in-class transmission is rare. Children under 15 years old are less likely than high-schoolers to contract the virus, which explains the reason for his announcement being limited to the younger grades.

“Children under 15 years old are 50 percent less likely to catch and 50 percent less likely to spread COVID-19 than children over 15,” he said.

To protect faculty, staff and service workers in the schools, Justice announced that all school personnel over 50 years old will be offered access to the vaccine over the next two to three weeks. Once everyone in that initial round who wants it is vaccinated, the state will then vaccinate those below 50.

Additionally, the start of winter sports will be delayed until March 1, 2021.

In related news, Justice also announced that as of this morning, the effort to vaccinate the residents and staff at all 214 long-term care facilities in the state is now complete.

Recognizing that the largest percentage of those who die from the coronavirus is among the elderly, Justice said that the general population of West Virginia, over 80 years old, will be the next priority in receiving vaccinations..This will take place at national guard armories and other locations around the state beginning immediately. .

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, indicated that they will be reaching out through local health departments and clinics to contact 80 year olds. Essential service workers, including grocery store employees, will also be contacted by their employers and business associations.

“This is bold and aggressive, but we have people that are dying. We know we are going to save lives,” Justice said.

This effort will be on a first-come, first-served basis. He said to watch the DHHR website for more information.