Four Kanawha County public schools, which were just allowed to reopen classrooms Monday, closed for parts of this week because of COVID-19, according to announcements from the school system.
Also, Thursday evening, Jerry Throckmorton, president of Kanawha’s arm of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a news release that the union is “filing multiple grievances against Kanawha County Schools on behalf of members at several schools for imposing conditions that threaten the health and safety of members.”
These official grievances, which can become lawsuits against the school system after working their way through the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board process, will seek “implementation of a model of delivery” that permits staff safety, the release said.
Rosemary Jenkins, a staff representative for the union, said it already had filed grievances on behalf of employees at two schools, and more will be coming. She said a big part of the grievances will focus on the school system’s lack of social distancing in some areas.
The release said, “we are only a few days into blended in-person learning, and we are already seeing the repercussions of the Kanawha Board [of Education]’s failure to prepare.”
Riverside High, East Bank Middle, Horace Mann Middle and Ruffner Elementary all shuttered for at least part of this week.
Horace Mann was shut down all week.
“We had several teachers who had been exposed to a person who tested positive,” school Superintendent Tom Williams said Monday. “And then we had some teachers in other grade levels that had been exposed, as well, and also had some other issues and the subs were not available that would know the routine of the school.”
Regarding Riverside, the school system said officials “were made aware [Wednesday] of a possible family case of COVID-19 within the Riverside High School community” and that Thursday’s closure was “being done out of an abundance of caution and to allow the [county health department] to conduct appropriate contact tracing. The school will be deep cleaned as a precaution and if anyone is deemed to have been in contact with a positive case, they will hear directly from the health department.”
The closures came during Kanawha schools’ first week of allowing nonspecial-education students into classrooms. During this week, only about half of children registered for in-person learning were scheduled to be in schools simultaneously — two days for one half and two different days for the other half.
The school system had planned to continue this for a second week before starting five days of weekly in-person instruction. But, in accordance with the county Board of Education’s 3-2 vote earlier this week, it will bring students registered for in-person classes back for five days starting Monday.
The union said 86% of the almost 700 members who replied to a survey disagree with that vote, and the union wants it rescinded.
“The Kanawha Board of Education has deviated from their responsibility to ensure a safe return to school for staff and students,” the release said. “Instead, the Board has caved to the demands of the politically connected few. The school community deserves clear and concise procedures for re-entry, which the Board did not prepare before making this about face in policy.”
Kanawha has about 60 schools.
Becky Jordon, president of the school board, said of these shutdowns, “I think, until there’s a vaccination, that will continue to happen.”
“And I’m glad that the superintendent and his staff can focus on the schools that need shut down and then go ahead and we educate, you know, the 90% of other kids,” she said. “We don’t shut them all down, and we just shut down as we need.
“I know they’re scared,” Jordon said of employees, “and we’re all scared right now, but, you know, we voted on this on Aug. 3 thinking, in a few weeks, we would do blended — two weeks of blended.
“I didn’t know it would be two months later that our kids still had not been in a building,” she said. “Bottom line is: We’ve got to educate kids, and they get a better education in a school building than they’re getting online now.”
Counties that have had schools open for longer than Kanawha also are seeing cases and temporarily closing schools.
Roane County, to Kanawha’s north, announced in a Thursday afternoon news release that Roane County High would be closed Friday. The school system said it learned Thursday of a second infected student, believed to be connected to another student who tested positive last Friday, although the transmission might not have happened in school.
Similarly, the school system announced that Spencer Middle, closed since Wednesday, would remain closed Friday after two staff member infections that are believed to be connected. The school system said it learned of one positive staff member there Tuesday and another on Thursday.
News media in other parts of the state have reported closings in other counties. MetroNews reported earlier that Doddridge County closed all of its schools this week — even though the state’s school reopening map didn’t force it to.
A Tuesday Facebook post by that school system said the shift to online-only education would last at least through the end of this week. The post said a “rapid increase in COVID-19 cases” was the reason.
“We are making this move to provide for the safety of our students, our teachers and the broader community,” the post said. “We also need to make this move since we have limited substitute teachers. Many of our substitute teachers are retired school teachers and have a greater risk of complications from COVID-19.”
Other newspapers reported temporary closures of Back Creek Valley Elementary and Gerrardstown Elementary in Berkeley County; Guyan Valley Middle in Lincoln County; Shady Spring High in Raleigh County; River View High and Sandy River Middle in McDowell County; and six schools in Wyoming County.