West Virginia schools won’t have in-person classes for the rest of the school year because of the coronavirus, Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday.
“The last thing on the planet I would do is put our kids in harm’s way,” Justice said.
He said distance education — which has taken place online and through other means, although student access to this is unequal — needs to continue, along with counties’ ongoing efforts to feed children.
Justice made the announcement after saying West Virginia had confirmed its 25th and 26th deaths from COVID-19.
“I’ve thought really hard, and I’ve tried, really, in every way, and very hopefully, to be able to go back to school,” Justice said, “because I know how much the kids would appreciate it. I can’t imagine just the excitement of the kids going back and seeing their friends and their teachers and all the goodness that would come of that, the ability to bring closure.”
Regardless of canceling in-person classes, Justice urged “every school to try to find a place through the course of the summer to where we can bring back those graduates and we can absolutely let them walk across the stage, receive their diplomas, and absolutely, you know, celebrate their accomplishment.”
Before COVID-19, county school systems were scheduled to let students out for summer by early June. But the state shut down schools starting March 16, at first for just two weeks, then for another three, then to May 1, and, now, for the rest of the school year.
At the start of this month, the leaders of both political parties in the West Virginia Legislature jointly called on the governor to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the school year, but he resisted at the time.
When West Virginia first announced its statewide shutdown, it was among the first handful of states to make the move. Three bordering states — Ohio, which was first in the nation, Kentucky and Maryland — had made the announcement before West Virginia did.
On Monday, Kentucky and Ohio both announced their closure would extend for the rest of the school year, and West Virginia followed suit Tuesday.
But this time, more than half of the other 50 states made the announcement before them, according to Education Week.
State schools Superintendent Clayton Burch also announced Tuesday that “all virtual school for high school students this summer will be free ... for those that need anything in that transition.”
He said the College Board will ensure Advanced Placement exams are available, a state higher education agency will ensure students can finish their dual-credit courses — dual-credit and AP can grant students college credit — and an education department official will ensure that career and technical education students can become CTE completers.
Burch also confirmed that current high school juniors will be able to take a free SAT college entrance exam in the fall. Usually, West Virginia juniors take the SAT as their statewide standardized test in that grade, but standardized testing also was canceled this spring.