The West Virginia Department of Education’s recommendations regarding restarting in-person classes remain a work in progress. They even changed quickly during Wednesday’s state Board of Education meeting.
But the broad current recommendation is to restart in-person classes as early as August, though perhaps without full weeks in classrooms. Online and other distance education may fill the gap on off days.
Wednesday’s changes to a two-page department guidance document dialed back some “wills” for county school systems to “mays,” although a department spokeswoman said before and after the changes that the reentry plans are meant to be recommendations or options for school systems to consider.
Wednesday’s alterations came after a few state school board members, starting with the newest one, Daniel Snavely, expressed concern over the proposals.
How the original proposals were formed is mostly a black box. They were formed by groups in meetings that aren’t open to the public and press.
Near the start of his remarks to the board Wednesday, state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said, “We are actually being recommended that children will not be coming back to school five days a week, and that is something that’s happening around the nation, we are going to have to have some time dedicated to sanitizing.”
He said the extra day in the week would be dedicated to this. He said this four-day model would be the preferred route for elementary schools, noting students that age are the most unlikely to be independent learners.
“We believe they do need to be in school as much and as often as possible,” Burch said.
For older students, he shared a recommendation that they attend at least two days a week, with the remaining days being “remote learning.” Burch said a smaller school might be able to do a four-day week for older students, but a larger one might not be able to pull that off safely.
A tricky issue will be school bus transportation, Burch said. He said a decision must be made in the future on both recommendations, and requirements, regarding this.
“The CDC requirements for West Virginia would be very, very tough,” he said, referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “One student per seat every other row, we would never get the students to school in some of these areas. In fact, I don’t know that we could buy enough buses to do that.”
A third scenario, in case of localized outbreaks, would revert schools back to five days a week of remote learning.
After Burch spoke, Snavely said of COVID-19, “It’s difficult to tell the mortality rate but, at least in West Virginia, it’s not been a very mortal disease.”
“Do we have data saying that these measures make a difference in the transmission?” Snavely asked.
He said a lack of education is a risk to weigh against the virus.
“Do we continue to drastically change our whole way of life and of education in this situation without data-driven benefits?” he asked.
Burch said, “this plan is overly cautious; this plan is overly, abundantly cautious.”
Board member Debra Sullivan said, “I watch very carefully, and care very deeply about getting kids back in school, we all do. They need to be there full-time. There is no substitute for a teacher in a classroom with a student, and we do not want to have a lost generation here.”
But board member Scott Rotruck paraphrased Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, in saying “If we think we overreacted [to the virus], we probably did it well.”
Burch later suggested the four-day recommendation could change, and language recommending at least two in-person days for older students was cut from the original guidance document.