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W.Va. school superintendents push for schools reopening

Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 7:54 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Superintendents in all 55 counties across West Virginia are supporting making changes to the color code map system to get students back to the classroom.

The West Virginia Association of School Administrators (WVASA) sent a letter to State Superintendent Clayton Burch saying the map was a good start, but schools have proven to be safe, even if there is COVID-19 spread in the community.

The letter comes after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced the return to school for middle and elementary students to in-person learning on Jan. 19. Justice cited students failing core classes and a minimal rate of spread or outbreaks within schools for the decision.

WVASA President Steve Wotring, who is also the superintendent of Preson County Schools, said students transition between in-person and remote education on a frequent basis do not learn well, and many schools have only had a few weeks of in-person instruction because of their county’s color code.

“I think there is merit to looking at the possibilities to say an entire system does not have to be closed if the data and the evidence says that doesn’t need to happen,” Wotring said. “Under the old system that’s what was happening. Every school was closed.”

Wotring said superintendents want to do something different to keep as many students in the classroom as possible. He said remote learning is not working, despite teachers’ best efforts, and about one-third of students across the state are failing at least one core class.

“We wanted to see something different that took into account the school numbers that were different than the community numbers,” Wotring said. “There are children that we have not heard from since March. They have signed up for virtual education, but for whatever reason are not participating. We are losing them.”

Making changes to resume in-person education is something that teachers support, West Virginia American Federation of Teachers President Fred Albert said. However, the teachers he represents do not want to re-enter the classroom before it is safe.

“Remote is not the best way to instruct or to learn, we get that, but it is better than nothing,” Albert said. “When people feel unsafe, they are not at their best. They’re not going to do their best assignments, they are not going to do their best instruction.”

Albert submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Education asking for more information about the concerns mentioned in Wotring’s letter and Burch’s response.

“We have never said we don’t want to go back to school,” Albert said. “We want to go back to school, but we want to make sure safety precautions are there. We want to make sure people are wearing masks, that they are washing their hands often throughout the day, that they are sanitizing, that the buildings are being sanitized, that we are social distancing. Those are the things that are proven to mitigate this virus.”

Albert said an ongoing survey found that more than 73 percent of teachers want to get a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to school, but the vaccination process could take months to ensure all educators have both doses and it is working.

That could waste time that is needed to ensure students don’t fall even further behind, Wotring said.

“Our teachers are working harder than ever and many of our kids are excelling,” Wotring said. “But, there is a large percentage of our students who are not learning virtually.”

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