W.Va. Schools Closed In Response To COVID-19
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced Friday, March 13 the closing of all pre-k through 12 schools in the state. This comes after several measures were taken this week, including the canceling of all out-of-state travel and the suspension of all afterschool and school extracurricular activities. Though at this time there are no positive cases of COVID-19, this step was taken out of an abundance of caution. Child nutrition programs will continue throughout the school closure.
While schools are closed to students, faculty, and staff are expected to report to work. The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) has been working with county superintendents for several weeks to update emergency preparedness plans, which will now be implemented. Each county has worked with its local health department to meet the specific needs of children, families, and communities.
“I support the Governor’s decision to cancel school as a preemptive measure to combat the spread of the coronavirus,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, W. Clayton Burch.
“The health and safety of our children is our foremost concern. We will work closely with our community partners, including the West Virginia National Guard, state agencies, organizations, school employees, and families to meet the needs of our students whether it be food distribution or other important supports.”
The WVDE has been actively working with the federal government to ensure that students relying on school breakfast and lunch programs will continue to receive those meals. Additionally, the WVDE will support counties in addressing any other flexibilities that need to be implemented to assist children and families while schools are closed.
Superintendent Burch will continue to work closely with Governor Justice, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and other state agencies to monitor the situation and provide updates to counties as developments occur.
In a press release released later, the following was said:
“At the heart of everything we are doing right now is the protection of our children, making sure our schools are safe for our teachers and staff, and making every effort to protect all of the people of West Virginia,” Gov. Justice said. “I have been and will remain in constant contact with Superintendent Burch, and we both have heard the concerns of our teachers and school service personnel. We want to make sure all their concerns are taken into consideration as we develop our plans.”
All schools will remain closed to students through at least March 27, 2020. No return date for students has been set at this time. Gov. Justice, State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch, and other education leaders will continue to monitor COVID-19 developments throughout this two-week period, with the goal of getting students back to class as soon as safely possible.
Only essential staff will report on Monday, March 16 through Wednesday, March 18, and county superintendents will determine who these employees are in their counties. During this time, the county superintendents will work with local boards of education, leadership teams, and essential staff to devise a continuity plan that outlines how to best meet the needs of students and the community during this extended closure.
All child nutrition programs will be minimally affected by this statewide school closure. Essential personnel including transportation staff, custodial staff, and food service staff are necessary during this time to ensure child nutrition efforts are implemented effectively for the over 200,000 students who rely on school meals for their daily nutrition. County boards of education may use school buses to transport meals to students throughout the duration of the closure.
“I want to commend all our school service personnel and school leadership for their commitment to our students and for making sure school meals are available to kids who truly need them,” Gov. Justice said. “At the end of the day, these are tough decisions being made as the result of a tough situation. But I truly believe, in my heart, that these are the things we need to do to keep all West Virginians as safe as possible.”
All remaining teachers and staff will return to work on Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20 to make sure plans are properly implemented so student needs, educator well-being, and the continuity of instruction are properly addressed.
County boards of education will determine staff requirements for Monday, March 23 and beyond. The county leadership team may choose to establish flexible work options including adjusted schedules and remote work.
“Every effort will be made so that the final school day will be the original date scheduled by the county, so there will be minimal disruption to summer vacations for our students and their families,” Gov. Justice said. “As we work through these troubled times we will do everything we can to not disrupt our lives any more than necessary. That also means that our kids will still be learning through a multitude of ways such as online classes or any and every concept our educators can come up with during this closure.”
Beyond online instruction, county leadership teams have an array of options to ensure the delivery of instruction including distance learning, telecommunication, electronic communication, traditional instructional packets, and more.
“Governor Justice, with his experience as a teacher and a coach, has an incredible grasp on this situation and he is showing incredible leadership for our students, teachers, staff, and really all people across West Virginia,” Superintendent Burch said. “It’s amazing to watch his calm, intellectual approach to this tremendous problem.
“Educators have always risen to the occasion to meet the needs of our students and I am fully confident they will step up in a big way to help us solve this challenge as well,” Superintendent Burch continued. “At the same time, we understand the need for educators to have flexibility so that they can best meet the needs of our students while also addressing the health and well-being of their own families. Even though this is uncharted territory, we will also be flexible in putting measures in place to support our children, families, educators, and staff.”
More information on the Department of Education’s plans to supplement student learning and nutrition will be available at wvde.us/COVID19.
The West Virginia National Guard and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture are also prepared to step in and support counties in offering adequate student support.
For more information about COVID-19 prevention and more, you can call the State’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-877-4304 or visit Coronavirus.wv.gov.