Gazette-Mail editorial: Brace for battle on schools reopening

January 7, 2021

A showdown of sorts is looming between public school teachers and Gov. Jim Justice after his announcement that all elementary and middle schools in West Virginia will resume in-person classes by Jan. 19, regardless of COVID-19 risk metrics.

When he made the announcement, Justice and state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch argued that it is safe because they learned from the fall semester that transmission rates among younger schoolchildren are lower, and outbreaks at schools have been minimal.

But the announcement also came as the Department of Health and Human Resources color-coded risk assessment map — a modified version of which was used to determine whether schools may host in-person classes and conduct extracurricular activities — started to turn mostly orange and red. Those are the highest categories of risk. The color codes, which also include lower risk levels of gold, yellow and green, are based on each county’s percentage of positive coronavirus tests or number of cases per capita.


By Tuesday morning, the DHHR map was completely red and orange for the first time since it was created, with 48 of 55 counties at highest-risk red, and seven at orange. The Department of Education version of the map, which still will be used to determine whether high schools are open to in-person classes, subtracts nursing home, jail and university cases, so it could show some counties eligible for in-person learning.

Teachers and school service personnel have some legitimate questions. The map was consistently altered to give counties the easiest path toward continuing in-person learning. Now that formula has been wiped out, because COVID-19 cases have been increasing dramatically. Some teachers wonder about their safety and that of their students. They can hardly be blamed for thinking the governor wants to drop the map because it’s no longer convenient.