CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – Gov. Jim Justice and members of the West Virginia COVID-19 pandemic response leadership team held another news briefing today to update the public on the State’s latest pandemic response efforts.
During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice was joined by State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch and WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan to discuss back-to-school plans for West Virginia as they relate to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve heard the Governor, our State Board President Miller Hall, and others talk about the toll that [the pandemic] took on our children, our families, our educators, service personnel, and all those related to the school system,” Superintendent Burch said. “We’re glad to be back. We know we want consistent time for our children to be in school. We want to make sure that families know that we do still have virtual school options available, but that consistent daily connection to the teachers is the most important thing.”
The West Virginia Board of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education released their back-to-school guidance for the 2021-22 school year. The information is designed to provide county school systems with strategies to facilitate the safe return to school and the continued operation of schools without interruption.
The information offers key mitigations for schools and extracurricular activities as well as other protocols to assist counties as they begin the new school year. The document and accompanying website will serve as a resource for educators, families, communities, and students.
“I don’t want to overlook the most important mitigation strategy that we have, and that is the vaccinations for students 12 and older, and for teachers and staff,” Superintendent Burch said, noting that additional school vaccination clinics will be held into the fall.
“We are ready to support our K-12 and our colleges and universities with vaccination clinics as schools restart,” Gov. Justice said. “And as soon as the FDA authorizes the vaccines to be given to individuals younger than 12, we will give you updates.”
The Governor added that he has authorized the Joint Interagency Task Force to stand up tabletop exercises to prepare for any and all potential scenarios that could arise as students return to school.
Gov. Justice and Superintendent Burch went on to discuss the WVDE’s #IGotVaxxedWV campaign, which was launched this summer to encourage students 12 and older to get their COVID-19 vaccine.
The WVDE also recently launched their #IGotVaxxedWV Competition to reward schools that have supported vaccinations among students and staff. The competition will run through the first week of October 2021 and – with Gov. Justice’s support – will award $50,000 to four elementary schools, four middle schools, and four high schools with the highest percentage of eligible staff and students vaccinated. The competition will include both public and private schools.
“If you don’t want an interruption in your school year, in your sports programs, and everything else, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Gov. Justice said. “It’s incredibly safe and it’s the absolute best answer that we have.”
WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan also made remarks Wednesday, announcing that the official practice schedule is already underway for all fall sports except volleyball, which is scheduled to begin next week.
Dolan added that the guidelines that were used last year for individual sports will serve as recommendations for this year and encouraged all eligible players and coaches to get vaccinated.
“We know that vaccination is the safest way and the best way to be able to participate,” Dolan said. “The guidance has been that, if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine. And more often than not last year it was the quarantine that was interrupting the schedules.
“At this point, we don’t intend on changing any of our state tournament schedules,” Dolan continued. “So we hope that everybody goes out and does what they need to do to make sure we’re able to do that and the kids are able to do that, because nobody wants to end up missing some of their season again.”