Mercer School bus

PRINCETON — Mercer County educators are meeting Friday to discuss West Virginia Board of Education parameters that call for school systems to offer in-person instruction starting Jan. 19 if their county is not red on the state DHHR County Alert Map System.

The West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) adopted parameters Wednesday for in-person instruction in public schools in the state. The WVBE’s action comes following the Executive Order issued by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this week permitting schools to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 19.

The WVBE’s action Wednesday was based on updated COVID-19 health data and its transmission rate in schools. State health officials and many leading national health organizations support the return to in-person learning because transmission rates within schools do not reflect heightened rates in the community, according to a statement from the WVBE.

For grades pre-K through 8, the action outlines expectations that schools offer a full in-person learning option four or five days each week. However, counties may begin with blended learning models providing at least two days of in-person instruction each week, state education officials said.

Virtual learning options will remain open to families, and each county is required to offer virtual learning programs for those selecting this option, according to the WVBE.

Schools are expected to offer an in-person option to students in grades 9 through 12 as long as their county is not red on the DHHR County Alert System Map. In-person instruction may also include blended learning models. Counties are expected to continue to work with their local health departments to move specific classroom or schools to temporary remote learning if specific health needs related to that classroom or school are identified irrespective of the county’s color on the DHHR County Alert System Map.

“As a State Board of Education, we have to do everything in our power to bring our children back to school in person,” said WVBE President Miller Hall. “I believe what our health experts are telling us, and I know our schools are the safest place for many of our children who are a part of vulnerable populations.”

Wednesday’s action also focused on the importance that schools and teachers play in many students’ lives, state school officials said.

“Too many of our children are falling further behind with each day they are not in school,” said WVBE Vice President Tom Campbell. “We know more about the disease now than we did a year ago, and we are able to make these types of decisions with the best interest of our children in mind. Nothing can replace the role a teacher plays in a child’s life, and in-person instruction is essential to this.”

Each Monday, State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch will provide the WVBE with an update of each county’s in-person instruction status, according to the WVBE statement. The Board has instructed the State Superintendent, WVDE staff, and all county-level education leaders to continue to provide educational information about the benefit and safety of the COVID vaccination to teachers, education staff, community members and residents throughout the state.

Prior to the WVBE’s motion, the Mercer County Board of Education (MCBOE) posted a statement about plans for reopening schools on Jan. 19. “Now is not the time for a drastic change. Our county has one of the highest infection rates in the state and our local hospital is full. It is my recommendation to the board that our current procedures in the reopening plan continue to be our guide until infection rates decline and our employees are vaccinated. At that point, it would be appropriate to re-examine the data and discuss possible adjustments,” according to the MCBOE announcement.

Some vaccine were “being rolled out in Mercer County this week to our employees, so there is hope on the horizon,” according to the MCBOE.

Mercer County educators outlined the school system’s plan for reopening.

“Beginning Friday, Jan. 15, Mercer County Schools will review the WV DHHR map color to announce the instructional schedule for the following week. If our county is red, all students will be in remote instruction. If our county is orange, gold, or yellow, we will follow our current blended model for middle and high school students (50 percent of students each day),” according to the MCBOE. “Elementary students will attend five days per week. If our county is green for two weeks, our middle and high school students will attend five days per week as well. Announcements will be made on a weekly basis, and families will be notified every Friday about the next school week.”

MCBOE President Paul Hodges said Wednesday after reading the state board of education’s statement that the county board will be discussing the state educators’ guidelines.

“We are going to discuss that later,” Hodges told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “Because of the action of the (state) board today, we will be meeting on Friday at 2 p.m to see how we are going to react to that.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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