West Virginia teachers union seeks to halt school reopening plan


A West Virginia teachers’ union is planning to take legal action to halt Gov. Jim Justice’s plan to reopen all elementary and middle schools for in-person schooling five days a week.

According to the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, reopening all the schools would put the health and safety of school employees at risk. The injunction will be filed against the West Virginia State Board of Education, the Department of Education and several county boards of education.

“Appointed policymakers issuing in-person learning mandates to local boards, who are duly elected by the citizens of their communities to govern their local schools, is an incredible overstepping of authority,” the union said in a news release. “To make such a decision while meeting virtually and behind closed doors is astoundingly tone deaf.”

The Center Square reached out to the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, the governor’s office and the Department of Education but did not receive a response.

A decision from the West Virginia Department of Health requires public school systems to offer in-person classes for students from preschool through eighth grade regardless of the county’s color rating in the state’s color-coded system.

The current color-coded system assigns a color to each county based on the spread of COVID-19. High schools in the red, which is the worst rating, still will offer remote classes.

At least one school system has created a reentry plan that may conflict with the state guidelines before the state’s announcement. Berkeley County’s plan would allow teachers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before reopening the schools for in-person education. The union said it will file amicus briefs supporting any school system that creates a reentry plan that conflicts with the state guidelines.

“With vaccine distribution under way, county boards who planned to have all willing employees vaccinated prior to a full return to in-person learning were exhibiting responsible leadership in protecting the health and safety of their staff and communities,” the union’s statement said. “These are reasonable decisions and should not be usurped by an appointed body with no accountability to voters.”

When Justice announced his reopening plan, he said it would be safe for students and provide better outcomes than remote schooling does.

“During 2020, we learned that COVID-19 transmission rates in our schools during the first semester was 0.02 percent among students and 0.3 percent among staff,” Justice said. “Our schools are safe when guidelines are followed. We also learned, when we switched learning modes to virtual learning, the outcomes are not good. One-third of our students are receiving failing grades in at least one of their core classes. The virtual learning models do not work for many students without consistent, live engagement from a teacher.”

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