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W.Va. schools mandated to return for full-time in-person learning

Counties will return to the five-day, in-person model for pre-k –8 students no later than March 3
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:08 AM EST
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UPDATE 2/23/21 @ 2 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A motion for PK-8 students to return to in-person instruction five days a week by March 3 went up for a vote Tuesday afternoon during a West Virginia Board of Education meeting and was passed unanimously.

According to the motion, counties are to return to the five-day, in-person model for pre-k – 8 students no later than March 3, 2021. To view the motion, click here.

The move replaces the Jan. 13, 2021, motion that required counties to offer at-least blended learning for families. This does not affect families that have chosen virtual learning for their children. Those children may remain with virtual learning through the end of the year.

Board members also recommended that high school students return to in-person instruction five days a week unless the county is listed as red on the state’s color-coded map. The Board of Education said grades 9 – 12 may remain with blended instruction if the infection rate in the community is high.

The motion also includes the option for county boards to apply for a special waiver to allow them to remain in remote education one day per week. This would be used for cleaning of school buildings and allow teachers to complete work for their virtual classes.

“Teachers are overly stressed by doing both the virtual and in-person instruction, and you can see why that would be stressful,” WVBE Vice President Tom Campbell said. “I am sure State Superintendent (Clayton Burch) is willing to work with all of the local superintendents with their needs and requests.”

Currently only 14 counties are in blended learning, 23 are in four-day-per-week and 18 are already in five-day-per-week instruction.

Prior to the vote, board members heard from Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus czar.

Marsh presented data regarding the transmission of COVID-19 within the school system. In line with national research, the state’s data indicates minimal transmissions within schools, especially among younger learners.

The structure of the school system and school day, as well as the practiced mitigations, have shown to be effective in keeping schools safe, according to the data. As a result, the WVBE’s decision requires counties to move to a consistent full, five-day teaching model regardless of the county’s color on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) Map.

“Early in the pandemic we thought school transmission was closely tied to community transmission rates,” said Dr. Marsh. “We’ve since learned this is not correct. We are finding that when mitigations are followed, schools are among the safest places for our children.”

“The decisions we are making are based on data,” said WVBE President Miller Hall. “According to Dr. Marsh, it is safe to return to five-days of instruction for our elementary and middle school students, and that is what we must do. Children don’t have equal access to technology, and it is very important to restore the support of the school system in the lives of our children. It’s time to return.”

Marsh told board members he believed it was safe for students to return to in-person learning and that in 2020 schools experienced no spread between teachers and students. However, Marsh said it was up to members to do what they felt was best for students, teachers and staff in West Virginia.

Dr. Marsh also said, based on evidence, maintaining social distancing of 3 feet is enough to reduce transmission with masking, and the only evidence of COVID-19 spreading in classrooms was when masks were not worn, teachers were holding conferences and during sports and music instruction.

According to Dr. Marsh, masking 90 percent or more of the people in a given area has the same success in stopping the spread of the virus as the COVID-19 vaccine.

When asked about newer air filtration systems being installed in classrooms, Dr. Marsh said the systems wouldn’t do much to stop the spread of the virus. He said that’s why masks and social distancing are so important. Dr. Marsh said masks have even helped to prevent the spread of the flu and other diseases this year.

Dr. Marsh recommended that officials continue to base decisions about in-person learning for high school students on the state’s color-coded county alert system map. Dr. Marsh said Tuesday that high schools have proven to be similar to small communities. He cited studies that found the spread of COVID-19 among high schoolers is similar to that of adults.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.

UPDATE 2/23/21 @ 12:40 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Dr. Clay Marsh is speaking about the return to school at the West Virginia Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

Dr. Marsh says the classroom is a really safe space. The only instances of spreading the coronavirus inside a classroom were fund when masks weren’t worn, teachers had conferences, or during sports or music.

The risk of spread in K-8 in school is around half of the risk of spread in communities. Dr. Marsh says high schools have about the same amount of risk of spreading the virus as the community does. He says studies find that high schoolers can spread the virus similarly to adults.

K-8 is much safer at school than at home in the community, Dr. Marsh explained. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice also agrees that K-8 is safe for teachers and students. He says high school is more risky, but is still safe.

Vaccinations of teachers in Phase 1D allowed them to improve safety even more when it comes to COVID-19. Phase 2B will include other teachers under the age of 50.

This is a developing story.

Keep checking the WSAZ App for the latest information.

ORIGINAL STORY 2/23/21 @ 7:14 a.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Members of the West Virginia Board of Education are scheduled to meet Tuesday.

The agenda is shorter compared to others in the past.

Normally, it’s a jam-packed agenda with several topics, but only three topics are on the docket for Tuesday.

The meeting will focus on education bills and in-person instruction.

According to the agenda, board members will discuss some of the education bills that are popping up in the house and senate.

The legislative session started a month ago.

So far, with the house and the senate combined, there have been 81 bills regarding K-12 education.

They cover a variety of topics including providing participation in school sports and charter schools.

Also on the agenda is a discussion about in-person education.

The state’s Coronavirus Czar, Clay Marsh, will be in attendance along with officials from West Virginia State.

During this discussion, motions concerning options for in-person learning can be brought to the floor.

The West Virginia Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.

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