Gov. Justice

CHARLESTON — Public schools in West Virginia will not begin until at least Sept. 8.

Gov. Jim Justice said it’s a matter of having more time to assess the developing situation with COVID-19 and the growing numbers of positive cases in the state and around the country. Schools usually start in mid-August.

“We are going to target a start date of Sept. 8 for schools,” he said, adding that he will address a possible start date for high school football games on Friday.

Justice said the Sept. 8 date will include 180 days of instruction while still allowing the school year to conclude by the end of May.

“No one wants us to go back to school more than I do,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, I’m going to do what I think is the best thing and safest thing for our kids. And I am not going to move forward with going back to school until I am absolutely as sure as I can be that our kids, teachers, service personnel, and parents are going to be safe.”

Safety will remain the priority.

“I am going to assure you beyond any doubt I am not going to move until I am absolutely as sure as I can be that are kids are going to be safe,” he said, along with teachers, staff and parents.

Justice, who parted ways with Pres. Donald Trump on the issue, said the time is needed to watch how the new outbreaks are going and plot a course to start schools safely.

Trump has announced all kids should be back in school, and described federal reopening safety guidelines as being “impractical and expensive.”

“Our kids need to be in school, they’ve got to get in school,” Justice said, but it must be done as safely as possible, not only for everyone in school but for others who come into contact with the kids at home.

“If we can buy ourselves more time, the better off we will be,” he said. “That’s exactly what we are doing.”

The situation with the virus has to be closely monitored along the way, he added.

“Everyone has got to realize that this situation is a moving target like you can’t imagine,” Justice said. “The more information we have and the longer that we can push this out, the better off we’ll all be. With our cases exploding to the upside, if we were to rush this and go back to school in two or three weeks, in my opinion it’s the wrong decision because we just don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to buy some time.”

Clayton Burch, state superintendent of schools, was on hand for the briefing and said superintendents from all 55 counties have been involved in the planning to return to schools and putting together contingency plans.

“We want our children coming back as normal as possible,” he said, and as safely as possible with whatever modifications are needed.

By Sept. 8, all counties will be ready, he said.

Burch also said teachers are “on point” with knowing where students are after the long break and they will make sure preparations are solid and in place.

Positive virus cases have been surging around the state, with 147 new cases in one day on Tuesday.

“The situation is a moving target,” Justice said of the pandemic. “We will formulate plans and adjust those plans as we go.”

But Justice said there is no way with the current surge to be ready to return to school “in the next two or three weeks.”

“Great work and great plans” are in place, he said, and can be adjusted as needed.

“I am going to listen to the experts … and not outside pressure,” he said, referring to Trump.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Education released “school system re-entry & recovery guidance.”

Possible scenarios include in-person and/or blended instruction (reduced days or hours), existing virtual options, or full remote learning if needed.

A re-entry tool kit that outlines details of safety measure used, including when to wear masks, is available on the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) website and stipulate those measures may vary from county to county depending on the number of positive cases in the county.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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