WVa teachers unions challenge in-person education mandate

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY)-West Virginia’s two largest teachers union are asking judges to halt or slow down the governor’s push to reopen more classrooms during the pandemic.

The West Virginia Education Association is seeking a temporary halt to the State Board of Education’s mandate for in-person instruction. And the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia filed a separate lawsuit to prevent teachers from returning to schools until all education workers are offered a second coronavirus shot.

The unions have said it is unsafe to put teachers and workers back in classrooms as coronavirus cases still climb.

“They can sue until the cows can come home or whatever,” Republican Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday. “I don’t know what else to do. We need our kids in school.”

Three out of 55 counties — Marion, Gilmer and Taylor — had not yet complied with the in-person learning mandate, said Clayton Burch, state superintendent of schools.

“I think that’s a mistake, but all these people are grownups,” Justice said about education officials in holdout counties.

Justice spoke at his coronavirus news conference, where he announced that the state is opening more than a dozen new vaccination clinics to try to vaccinate 12,000 more frontline health care workers.

The state will unveil a new online portal to register for vaccinations at 8 a.m. Monday. Currently, all residents 65 and older and some essential workers, such as health care personnel and teachers, are eligible for shots. The new website, which will notify individuals when an appointment is available, comes after complaints of long wait times to book a shot.

“I know people are calling like crazy and can’t get through,” Justice said. “I just ask you just again, to try to be as patient as you possibly can be in calling and pushing.”

But he noted the state does not currently have enough vaccine doses for all West Virginians aged 65 and older.

This week the state received an influx of 23,600 vaccine doses for first-time recipients and 47,225 doses for those awaiting their second and final shots. Both of the vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require two doses to be administered a couple of weeks apart.

The state was hoping to receive 25,000 more first doses but the shipment from the federal government never materialized.

About 137,070 people have received at least one dose, or about 7.7% of the population. Justice said the state expects to administer its current remaining stock of 19,200 first doses by the end of Sunday.

Active virus cases in West Virginia have dropped 12% since peaking at a record 29,257 on Jan. 10.

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