At least until Feb. 8, Kanawha County public school students will not be offered the five days per week of in-person instruction they were provided in the fall.
The Kanawha Board of Education approved keeping its classrooms open on a regular schedule in the fall, at a time when more than half of West Virginia’s 55 counties weren’t offering the same level of in-person instruction.
From Oct. 12 to Dec. 14, Kanawha kept classrooms across the county open, although COVID-19 issues still temporarily closed some individual classrooms and schools.
Wednesday morning, though — amid the state’s daily COVID-19 cases and deaths hitting records and school worker union pressure to limit in-person learning until more workers are fully vaccinated — the school board changed course.
The board voted to reopen classrooms Tuesday on a “blended learning” model.
Separate groups of students will attend alternating in-person and online learning days. This reduces the number of students in a building simultaneously.
Students would get two days in-person and three days online each week. Even in the blended route, families that chose to have their children attend online-only classes may continue to do so.
On Monday, students will be out of school for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On Tuesday and Wednesday, students with last names starting with A-L may attend classrooms, and the same goes for the M-Z students on Thursday and Friday.
The following weeks, A-L students will attend Mondays and Tuesdays, everyone will learn online on Wednesdays, and M-Z students will attend Thursdays and Fridays.
Board members had actually voted to not have any in-person days for any students, save for special education students, until Feb. 8. But they added a proviso to that motion: unless the West Virginia Board of Education forbids that. Later, the state board did require counties to begin offering at least two in-person days per week starting Jan. 19.
Kanawha’s board seemed Wednesday to be headed toward simply voting to stay with countywide “remote learning,” without that addendum respecting the state board.
“Stay remote until we get everybody vaccinated that wants to be vaccinated,” board member Jim Crawford suggested.
“My mother was in the hospital 23 days, I have direct experience with this,” said board member Ric Cavender, who had COVID-19 himself.
“Back in the fall, if you took a poll, most people didn’t know someone who had COVID,” said board member Tracy White, who had backed five days per week in-person in the fall. “Now, I don’t know of one person that I can ask that either hasn’t had COVID, or knows someone that’s had COVID, or has lost a loved one because of COVID. We can’t deny the fact that it’s getting worse.”
“Let’s get vaccinated,” said Jerry Throckmorton, head of Kanawha’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers union, in his speech to the board. “Let’s get past what — hopefully will be the next month, approximately — of the worst conditions in this county with regard to potential health risk to everybody in the community.”
But board member Ryan White, who had suggested in vain that the Kanawha board delay voting until after the state board met to make its decision, spoke out against defying the state.
He said he supported at least the blended learning route, noting the harm to children from being out of school and noting there are children who don’t have the resources to learn online. But he said he could support a vote to stay remote, provided that the motion said the county would ultimately follow the state board’s will.
“They have money that they give us, that they will be giving us, and they have the sole authority to give that money,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to buck the state board. It’s a very bad idea. Doing what’s best for our county is getting it all the resources that we can from the state board.”
The board then voted unanimously for the predicated motion.
After the vote, Dinah Adkins, co-president of the county branch of the National Education Association union, said she opposed the board’s proviso that it would bow to the state.
“The governor and the state board have not been consistent in what they feel is safe for our children,” Adkins said.
She suggested the county fight the state board in court to defend its preference.
“The county board is going to be held accountable for the safety of the students and the employees,” Adkins said.