Gov. Justice announces reopening plan for West Virginia schools

Gov. Jim Justice

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice joined State education and health leaders to unveil the multifaceted plan that will be used to reopen all pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools in West Virginia and will also provide multiple options and resources to allow all students to resume their education.

“I’ve told you repeatedly that there’s no chance in the world, to the best of all my abilities, will I put a kid, a teacher, our service personnel, or anyone into a situation that’s unsafe,” Gov. Justice said. “Today, I am extremely proud to announce that we have a safe method to reopen our schools that we built in from a standpoint of local control and scientific metrics.”

Timeline and options
Gov. Justice announced that the target date for school re-entry currently remains Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. Local data including community spread and infection rates will continue to be monitored to ensure students and staff are able to return to school safely.

All 55 counties are required to submit their re-entry plans to the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) by Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. Each county will offer multiple options for instruction, including in-person instruction, virtual instruction, or a hybrid model. Parents and guardians will have the flexibility to select their preferred instruction model.

In-person instruction and hybrid models would place students in the classroom for a set number of days based on each county’s re-entry plan. However, generally, the hybrid option will feature reduced days or reduced hours of in-person instruction, combined with distance or virtual learning.

Virtual instruction would serve as an option for parents or guardians who have concerns about sending their child back to school. Virtual instruction will require complete online learning with a broadband or wifi access.

All counties must have plans in place to minimize exposure and to implement best health practices like social distancing, face coverings, hand washing, and disinfection protocols. They must also provide a plan to continue to feed children daily, regardless of the mode of instruction they choose and they must continue to provide support services for students who may require additional assistance.

Safety metrics
If a county were to see substantial community transmission, Gov. Justice, State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch, and the affected county superintendent would work together on additional actions to keep schools safe, including stopping in-person instruction and going to full remote learning if necessary.

Gov. Justice announced Wednesday that he has directed the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and State medical experts to work with the WVDE to develop a metric that will be used to indicate when it is safe to go to school and when community transmission rises to a level where additional action may be necessary.

The Governor announced that the metric, which is still in development, will be based on each county’s rate of COVID-19 cases over certain periods of time.

As soon as the metric is finalized, it will be made publicly available. The numbers for each county will be posted to an online dashboard and a map for the public to see.

“Over the next 10 to 14 days or so, we will develop a code system,” Gov. Justice said. “From that, what we’ll do is be able to look at an area and say, ‘This county has this level of the metric and it is beyond what we think is acceptable for the schools to be open.’ From there, in that county at that point in time, we would not have schools open. We would do it all virtually until we get the numbers back down.”

Depending on how each county is performing in the metric, they will each be assigned one of four colors: green, yellow, orange, or red.

Green indicates that a county is experiencing minimal community transmission, allowing counties to operate under general re-entry guidelines while continuing to follow best health practices to prevent the spread of the disease.

Yellow indicates that a county is experiencing moderate community transmission and increased restrictions may be necessary.

Orange indicates that a county is experiencing higher community transmission and further restrictions will be necessary, in collaboration with local health officials.

Red indicates that a county is experiencing substantial community transmission. Under these conditions all in-person instruction would be suspended and remote learning plans would be activated. Staff would continue essential support services, including meals, student engagement, and special education.

Each county’s performance in respect to the safety metric will be continuously evaluated by DHHR and updated on the online dashboard and map resources.

Tyler Barker
Tyler Barker is currently the News Director and Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. He was promoted to this job in Mid-November. He still will fill in on weather from time to time. You can follow Tyler on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email him at tbarker@woay.com