Some West Virginia schools returning to classroom

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CHARLESTON, W. Va.– West Virginia officials have called for a return to classrooms, but what will actually happen varies by county.

Schools often went to remote schedules because of the coronavirus pandemic throughout the fall, but state officials are now aiming to limit that option.

Gov. Jim Justice called for a return to classrooms by Jan. 19, but this past Friday acknowledged that might not be the case for every county. Justice said he would not pressure counties to fall in line.

“I don’t think that’s my call in the first place as far as pressuring them to go back,” Justice said during a regular briefing. “That’s the Department of Ed’s call and the Board of Education. They made their rulings.

“I think, without question, they ought to be back in school. But that’s going to be up to them.”

The state Department of Education unanimously agreed last week that local school systems should return to classrooms. The board’s general counsel indicated counties that had already decided to do something else would probably need to revisit their plans.

The state board’s guidance indicates counties could close high schools if a state map of coronavirus levels shows red. For grades PreK-9, the map would have no effect any more.

Right now much of the map remains red or orange, the highest levels of covid spread.

Under the state board’s plan, local superintendents could close individual classrooms or schools. And counties also could opt for a hybrid option, where students are in classrooms some days and learn online other days. That could help school populations down and help with social distancing.

Families who choose to could continue to opt for virtual learning, which is a more planned-out system for online instruction.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia is planning a legal challenge to the state board’s mandate, saying individual counties should be able to choose. Teachers unions also say the levels of covid in communities are still too high and note that teachers haven’t gotten two doses of vaccination.

Some counties still aren’t on board with the state.

Jefferson County in the Eastern Panhandle has extended remote learning until March 1.

Taylor County in northern West Virginia informed community members that students will remain on remote schedules for the next two weeks. “We will make our decision on what lies ahead for the following two weeks on Friday, January 29, 2021.”

Some counties are proceeding with the option of hybrid schedules.

Marion County in northcentral West Virginia, used the blended schedule in the fall and plans to do so again starting Tuesday.

Kanawha County, the state’s largest system, had planned to begin the spring semester with remote learning. But Kanawha now plans to start Tuesday with a hybrid schedule. Students whose last name starts with A-L will be in classes Tuesday and Wednesday. Students whose last name begins with M-Z will be in classrooms Thursday and Friday. The other days will be online learning.

Putnam County Schools Superintendent John Hudson said students there will return to classrooms five days a week as already planned.