The governor has made new decrees regarding the importance of in-person classroom learning for the state’s students. To this end he issued a new mandate just before the New Year holiday that those classes be resumed mid-month.
Our local school administrators and board of education members are very vocal proponents of that very idea. In fact, Mingo County BOE President James Ed Baisden is lobbying other superintendents across the state to support him in trying to get the governor to expand his current executive order.
That order reopens all primary and middle schools on Jan. 19 regardless of county status on the community alert system map. High schools will open under any classification other than red. Baisden would have the high schools follow the pattern of the lower schools and reopen no matter the color.
While issuing his latest order, Gov. Jim Justice declared that West Virginia is doing a disservice to its students with the repeated switching from in-person classes to remote learning. He cited various W.Va. Department of Education statistics that show schools are safe environments and that one-third of students statewide are failing at least one core class. He also talked about the emotional need of social interaction among school-age children.
However, the governor has come under fire for his most recent decision. Those decrying his newest edict claim that he is abusing his power and that West Virginia is in a COVID-19 surge higher than any point during the fall semester when he had closed schools for safety reasons.
In fact, Mingo County Del. Nathan Brown (D—Lenore) said one of the biggest topics that will be addressed by the West Virginia Legislature in the coming session, which convenes next week, is limiting the of power the governor has during a crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Brown says that the state has been operated under executive orders since March 2020 and the governor has not called the Legislature into special session even one time to assist in the decision-making process.
The numbers concerning infection rates, daily and cumulative positivity rates, hospitalizations and other factors, give credence to those who are wary of the mandated reopening. The stats given by the governor during the past two weeks continue to reach record highs for the Mountain State. The number of deaths mid-week were approaching 1,500 West Virginians.
This does leave one to wonder if Justice is pandering to some sort of a personal crusade since it was the governor himself who lauded the community alert system and heaped praises upon those who had a part in developing the system. That system was deemed too restrictive and early on the system was tweaked in efforts to bring students back into the classroom setting to the point that not one but two sets of testing numbers and the lowest of those numbers would be the basis of making that decision. Many critics, at that time, claimed those changes were simply number manipulation. Now, with the newest decision, the governor is all but scrapping the community alert system.
Some school districts have already said they will remain in remote learning and will not follow the governor’s lead in this matter.
We at the Mingo Messenger — as parents, grandparents and concerned observers — agree that in-class learning is truly in the best interest of our students, but their safety should be the utmost priority. We hope the governor is as concerned about the children as he claims to be. Only time will answer that question, as we wait to see what conditions the coming weeks bring.
The one thing we feel good about is the fact we sincerely believe our local school board and administrators do have the best intentions for the children of Mingo County. Changing from in-person classes to remote learning has been hard on everyone concerned — students, parents, faculty and even the administrators. Yet, they have risen to the challenge and have modified the remote situation in attempts to provide the same quality of education either way. It has not been easy, but our local schools have a working plan in place no matter what situation presents itself during the spring semester.