Union leaders disagree with Gov. Jim Justice on school re-entry

The WVSSPA and WVAFT voiced concerns about the upcoming school year
Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 9:59 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Union leaders with the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association (WVSSPA) and the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers (AFT-WV) held a joint news conference Thursday to share concerns they have with the public about how the governor is handling the reopening schools process.

On Wednesday Gov. Jim Justice announced during his news conference that there will be 1,000 WiFi hotspots placed across the state of West Virginia to ensure kids in the Mountain State will be able to download and submit their school assignments if needed. But Justice also said there will be transportation for students to get to and from not only the WiFi hotspots but also to things like sports practices or to pick up meals.

“We’re going to send buses so we can get our kids to these needs as best as they possibly can,” Gov. Justice said. “Is it tough? Yes. But there is nothing more important than providing our kids with access to these resources and opportunities.”

“This means our bus operators are going to be driving our students to school, remote learners to hotspots, delivering food and now athletes to practice,” said Joe White, executive director of WVSSPA. “How many different meals are our cooks going to have to prepare? Folks, this is just not possible.”

White said currently the state doesn’t have enough bus operators for regular runs. “This is just one example of poorly prepared plans,” he said.

The WVSSPA and AFT-WV said on Thursday they were not happy with how Gov. Justice was planning for the upcoming school year.

“During a crisis, people need facts and clear direction. They don’t need two days of buildup and anxiety about an announcement which provided no substantial new information on the process of reopening our schools,” said Fred Albert, president of AFT-WV.

Both the WVSSPA and the AFT-WV said Justice is not being realistic with his planning and instead needs to put more attention on school re-entry plans.

“I’m sure everybody, when that announcement was made, there was probably a loud thud that you heard, that was superintendents’ jaws hitting the table because now they have to go in here, add all these extra runs. All these meal runs, all these athletic runs, there’s no money to do it,” White said.

Both White and Albert laid out recommendations, which they said come from scientists and chemists they talk with on a regular basis, for the upcoming school year. White said one of those recommendations is having students to be divided by their geographic location rather than their last name when it comes to the blended learning option.

“A lot of the communities they play together, play ball together in local park or neighborhood hang out together have that group of students.”

White also said, currently he is getting reports that many counties are not able to get the supplies and PPE that they have ordered. For those those counties, he is unsure if the Sept. 8 starting date would be a good idea. However, he also said if counties can make it work safely then that date could still work.

Ben Salango, the Democratic candidate for West Virginia governor, was also at the news conference with the WVSSPA and the AFT-WV.

WSAZ reached out to Gov. Justice’s spokesperson for comment, but here is what Justice’s campaign communications director Clay Sutton released after the news conference:

“Governor Justice is committed to keeping students and teachers safe, ensuring a world-class education, and empowering local school leaders to make re-opening decisions that are best for their communities based on scientific metrics. It’s sad to see Ben Salango force our teachers and school service personnel to engage in partisan politics when so many West Virginians are focused on keeping their families safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sutton concluded, “Unfortunately, health and safety haven’t been a priority for Ben Salango. He led the charge to cut funding for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, and now Kanawha County has more COVID-19 cases than nearly any county in the state. West Virginians cannot afford the risk of electing someone with the inexperience of Ben Salango during a health crisis.”

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