W.Va. Teachers' Union Wants Public Schools To Start Online

West Virginia Education Association's President Dale Lee attends a Senate Education Committee meeting on Jan. 24 2019.

A West Virginia teachers’ union is urging public schools to avoid face-to-face instruction when students return next month due to the coronavirus.

The West Virginia Education Association suggested the online-only start Thursday based on a survey of the union’s membership.

WVEA President Dale Lee said most of the respondents felt uncomfortable returning to classrooms under their individual county’s reopening plans. In addition, nearly all members were skeptical that students could effectively maintain social distancing and wear masks.

“Full distance learning will give time for counties to get a handle on the situation and to further iron out the details on how the next steps of the school re-entry will be handled in each location,” Lee said.

Gov. Jim Justice has pushed back the start of the school year to Sept. 8. He said recently that a final decision on the reopening would have to be made by Sept. 1.

Last month American Federation of Teachers’ state chapter president Fred Albert expressed doubt that face-to-face instruction could occur safely based on health trends.

The number of virus-related deaths in West Virginia has jumped 23% since last Friday, pushing the total for the pandemic to at least 153. Confirmed cases in West Virginia have tripled in the past seven weeks to more than 8,150.

Lee said two-thirds of WVEA educators consider themselves at risk due to health, age or caregiver concerns.

“We understood that every county and their individual schools are unique in each circumstance,” he said. ”But safety for the employees and the students should be foremost everywhere. One outbreak of the virus is one outbreak too many. And starting before we are truly prepared will simply force shutdowns and create additional anxiety and uncertainty.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.