Beginning March 3, all elementary and middle schools in West Virginia will be required to offer in-person classes five days per week, the state board of education decided in a vote.
During the meeting, the board recommended that high schools return to in-person classes five days per week, but did not require them to do so. High schools may offer fully in-person instruction or provide a blend of online and in-person learning because older students transmit COVID-19 at similar rates to adults, the board decided.
Parents will still have the option to keep their children in virtual public school learning.
“Members of the West Virginia Board of Education recognize and applaud the diligence, creativity, compassion and commitment of West Virginia educators and service personnel who have provided physical, intellectual and emotional lifelines to our children during the pandemic,” the board said in a statement along with the guidance provided for the schools.
“They have taken selfless and heroic measures to support students and their families during these challenging times,” the statement said. “The current and future well-being of our children and youth is of the highest priority and those who contribute to this effort deserve our deepest appreciation and recognition.”
Local county boards of education can still work with local health officials to close individual classrooms or schools in response to a health risk, but cannot issue county-wide orders for virtual learning. These decisions must be limited in duration and related to a specific health need for that school or classroom.
This replaces an earlier order in January that only required these school districts to have some in-person classes, which could be blended with online learning.
“I think that is wonderful,” Gov. Jim Justice, who has been urging schools to re-open, said in a statement. “I absolutely believe, with all in us, that we ought to be back in school full-time. Our kids need it so badly, but our families need it as well.”
Republican lawmakers have also made progress on a series of bills that would reform education in the state going forward. Now with a supermajority in both chambers, these bills are likely to get the necessary support.
Legislation to clearly prohibit public teachers from striking passed the Senate and legislation to expand the charter school system passed the House. Both bills are being considered by the other chamber. A bill that would establish a school voucher system, letting parents use tax money for sending their children to private schools or homeschool expenses, is also working its way through the legislature.
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