Governor Justice establishes $50M to ensure safety of schools

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY)- During Friday’s briefing, Gov. Justice announced that he is placing $50 million of CARES Act money into a special fund for PPE, cleaning supplies and, if the need arises, additional testing at schools.

This, along with existing resources, will provide schools with the assurance that their needs will be met for the duration of the school year.

“Everybody has signed off that we have adequate PPE to start our schools back. In addition, our National Guard has 2 million masks and all kinds of other PPE,” Gov. Justice said, adding that the West Virginia Department of Education has also already provided $91 million preparing schools to safely reopen this fall.

“Our Superintendent of Schools, Clayton Burch, has told us over and over that they have checked, double-checked, and triple-checked, with all of our superintendents weighing in, that our schools have all the safety equipment we need. We’re ready to go,” Gov. Justice continued. “But, if we have any level of outbreak or problem that is beyond our current means, we will have an additional $50 million to address that.

“This should more than give us the ability to put aside any concerns and allow us to move forward.” The fund will also be used for other urgent COVID-19-related equipment and testing needs beyond schools.

An analysis of CARES Act spending rates by the West Virginia Department of Revenue determined that the State is able to move surplus funding, originally allocated to WorkForce West Virginia’s unemployment fund for 2020-2021, to establish the new fund without compromising benefits.

The Governor added that he received unanimous support from his Legislative Advisory Committee for this fund.

Also while discussing schools Friday, Gov. Justice clarified that county school systems are not restricted from moving to a full-virtual education model if they choose to do so. However, the Governor offered a reminder that such a decision would remove parent choice from the statewide school re-entry plan, established by the WVDE, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and the Governor’s Office.

“This is all driven by parents having the choice,” Gov. Justice said. “Right now, the overwhelming majority of parents across the state – as much as 70 percent – want their kids back in school.

“If a county wants to go 100 percent remote, they can do just that. We don’t think that’s what they ought to do. But, if they do, that’s up to them. We support our counties’ right to make local decisions,” Gov. Justice continued. “But if they are 100 percent remote, and the WVSSAC agrees with this, the schools in those counties can’t play sports. It’s not a penalty, it’s just the way it has to be. If they are closing in an effort of safety, we absolutely can’t have kids out on the football field or kids playing volleyball and school is not open. There’s just no way that you could have both.

“If it’s too dangerous to go back to school it’s surely too dangerous to be playing sports.”

The Governor also offered a reminder that, for most counties, the first day of school is still scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

On Friday, the Governor provided an updated look at West Virginia’s latest County Alert System color-coded map.

The map is updated live on the DHHR’s COVID-19 Dashboard (Click “County Alert System” tab) throughout the week  to provide an indication of how each county is trending ahead of each Saturday at 9 p.m.; the time when each county is assigned its official color designation for the next week, which determines the level of scholastic, athletic, and extracurricular activities permitted in each county for that particular week.