CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY)- The West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) and Department of Education (WVDE) have reviewed the data and heard the voices of state and national health officials: our schools are safe for both students and teachers.
Additionally, the state is witnessing the fruition of the vaccine rollout to all education staff as well as the allocation of hundreds of millions more dollars for pandemic relief and recovery for West Virginia schools. These layered approaches reinforce efforts to return to in-person instruction with additional precautions beyond the focused mitigations and protocols recently outlined. During the January meeting, the West Virginia Board of Education will consider additional precautionary measures to allow counties extended flexibilities for the return to in-person instruction.
Many counties have indicated wanting to return to in-person instruction, five days each week as soon as possible under the existing protocols. This approach is the most effective way to educate students and meet their diverse learning and social and emotional needs. Others, upon discussion with their communities and local leaders, have expressed a desire to return to blended instruction models until school personnel desiring the vaccine have received the second dose.
In an effort to ensure student engagement and learning is supported to the fullest extent possible over the coming weeks, President Miller L. Hall will recommend to the Board that counties be permitted to continue blended learning models until school personnel have been fully vaccinated. This endorsement will not include remote learning models.
“As a state board of education, our unwavering commitment remains on the assurance that all counties are moving to full, in-person instruction for all children, said WVBE President Miller Hall. “It is our goal to return West Virginia students to in-person learning and reassure our education employees and parents that it is safe to do so.”
“The purpose of this recommendation is not to allow counties to back away from the January 19 return date announced by the Governor, but instead to strengthen the education support structure for our students keeping our eye on getting students back in the building as soon as possible,” Hall said. “The academic and extended needs of our students have suffered too much and our schools are the best way to get them back on track.”
West Virginia’s vaccination plan, the most aggressive in the country, provides an additional layer of safety for our students and teachers returning to school and will enable us to move our education system forward.
“We continue to advocate for the return to full, in-person instruction because our children so desperately need to get back to school,” said State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch. “I respect the ability of local-level decision-making, however, our collective purpose must remain focused to ensure the constitutionally mandated educational goals of quality and equality are achieved.”
If the WVBE accepts the recommendation, those counties ready to return to full in-person instruction will begin on January 19, and those wanting to continue with blended instruction can do so until all school employees are vaccinated.
This week, 9,140 educators and school personnel rolled up their sleeves to receive the vaccine which was given to employees 50 years of age and older as a priority. Distributions will continue during the week of January 10th.
“We appreciate the response from our educators and school employees during the first week of the vaccine rollout,” said State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch. “Those who have come out to receive the vaccine are an important part of our recovery efforts as we return to in-person instruction statewide. We will continue to work with counties to facilitate a smooth process until all in our school system who want the vaccine have one.”
As part of the recently passed federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the state will receive more than $339 million. These dollars are a part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) round two allocations counties can use for continuity of operations, pandemic learning loss activities and health and safety needs (among others). The WVDE will provide counties with an application to access the funds by January 19, 2021. All counties still have access to funds provided through the first round of ESSERF.