As Justice steers state to classroom return, focus turns to individual counties

By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews

January 6, 2020

Gov. Jim Justice wants to open West Virginia classrooms in two weeks even as coronavirus spreads, but teachers unions are pushing back with a focus on local school systems.

“We’re working with our locals so that each county can come up with a plan to modify whatever fits their county,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “Each county has the responsibility.”

There are already examples of counties deviating from what the governor has laid out.

Taylor County voted on its own color-coded system that essentially allows for more classroom instruction as the rate of virus spread declines. Orange and red will move the county into remote instruction at all grade levels.

Marion County’s school board unanimously voted Monday evening in favor of going remote for all grade levels if the county is shown on the state map as red, indicating the highest levels of covid spread.

The baseline for Marion County will continue to be a two-day, two-cohort blended schedule. One group attends school Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday is an off day to keep the school clean, then Thursday and Friday are distance learning. The second group mirrors that.

Any decision to go back to 4 days a week in classrooms would take place when deemed safe by the Marion County Health Department and the local school board, according to progress with vaccinations and levels of covid spread.

“I think it’s more a following the science and following the health department recommendations and the local needs. No one disagrees it would be best if everyone was back in school. The timing is the question,” said Marion County school board President Mary Jo Thomas.