A major disconnect between Gov. Jim Justice’s administration and local school districts is cause for concern, especially as West Virginia school districts prepare to open next week amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As reported by Ryan Quinn in Tuesday’s edition of the Gazette-Mail, many school officials are worried about long-term supplies of personal protective equipment, having adequate resources for students to learn online and making sure children are fed. The Justice administration has plans for all of these things, but county school officials and administrators across the state question whether they will be enough.
Meanwhile, Gov. Justice appears to be sitting on a good deal of the $1.25 billion allocated from the federal CARES Act back in the spring, waiting to see what the money might be needed for down the road, while also hoping for more aid from Congress. The governor says half the money will be used for an unemployment fund, while he has earmarked another $50 million for a roads project that is questionable as it pertains to emergency coronavirus relief.
Schools in West Virginia did get $90 million from the federal government, but some people say it’s not nearly enough. The plans in place might cover opening schools, they say, but more funds and better planning will be required to keep the facilities open and safe as the COVID-19 pandemic looms over everything.
Some of this is to be expected. West Virginia is getting ready to open public schools in all 55 counties, and those hundreds of schools all have their own specific challenges and needs. Still, dialogue between the state government and school districts needs to be better, and the Justice administration’s approach to some of the major issues involved has been reactionary and less than thorough.
Even on Monday, when Justice offered a workaround to help three counties ineligible for sports and other extracurricular activities because of a high number of COVID-19 cases, it became clear that neither the governor nor members of his administration had run the idea by school district officials. All three county districts ended up rejecting Justice’s offer because they didn’t think it was feasible and were more focused on making their schools safe by Sept. 8, regardless of what contests their sports programs might miss.
Maybe Justice and state education officials are communicating with local districts around the clock, but the gap between what those local officials say they need and what has been provided indicates otherwise. Justice, in making the case for getting Kanawha, Fayette and Logan counties eligible for athletics, repeatedly said, “we have a week.” He needs to apply that thinking more generally to the opening of schools.
Time is running out to ensure West Virginia schools will be able to open and sustain operations, while also providing the proper infrastructure for students learning online.