Diocese declines offer to open schools in orange counties

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston won’t accept Gov. Jim Justice’s offer to allow private and religious schools to reopen in orange counties if students and staff get tested for the new coronavirus.

Diocese spokesman Tom Bishop gave several reasons for the decision, including an opposition to forcing students and staff to take coronavirus tests, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

Bishop said five schools are not allowed to have in-person instruction because their counties are orange on Justice’s color-coded school reopening map. The schools are Sacred Heart Grade School, Charleston Catholic High and St. Francis of Assisi School in Kanawha County; St. Francis Central Catholic School in Monongalia County; and Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School in Fayette County.

Justice provided the exemption to private and religious schools Wednesday, only if they agree to pre-test students and staff.

Public schools in orange counties are not being offered the same choice.

Justice said the testing would be free for the private and religious schools because of federal funding from the pandemic relief fund but Bishop questioned whether that was accurate.

“Are we sure that’s legal?” Bishop asked.

Public schools also weren’t offered free testing for students and employees.

A news release from Justice said schools must “enter into an agreement with the State of West Virginia regarding testing and safety protocols prior to resuming in-person instruction” in order to qualify for the exemption, besides being a private or religious school.

A governor spokesman did not respond for comment request on whether masks will be required in schools that use the exemption.

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Kassie Simmons
Kassie Simmons joined the team in January 2019 as a weekend journalist. She graduated from Virginia Tech in just two and a half years with a BA in multimedia journalism. During her short time at Virginia Tech, she served as the editor for the university’s chapter of The Tab. Kassie was named the top reporter for The Tab at Virginia Tech on multiple occasions and made the list for the top 30 reporters for The Tab in the U.S. She also studied theater performance and minored in creative writing. Before coming to WOAY, Kassie interned at WSLS in Roanoke and the Tidewater Review in her hometown of West Point, Va. She has loved following breaking news since her childhood and has a passion for delivering the stories people care most about. Kassie is excited to be working in Southern West Virginia and looks forward to all the adventures ahead of her. You can follow her on Twitter at @KassieLSimmons and like her page on Facebook. If you have a story you think she should check out, send her an email at ksimmons@woay.com.