CHARLESTON, WV – West Virginia students won’t return to public schools this school year, Governor Jim Justice announced Tuesday.
During his daily press briefing, Justice said there’s no way he could, in good conscience, send kids back to school in April or May.
“We’re not going to be able to go back to school,” he said, “and I just hate that because I can imagine the excitement of the kids going back and seeing their friends and their teachers and all the good that would come from that. But the bottom line is simply this – I have promised you over and over and over that I would not put you in a position that could be harmful, and I would try to protect you in every way, especially our kids.”
The governor said putting students in grades K-12 in harm’s way “is the last thing I would want to do on the planet.”
Justice said although students won’t be able to return to physical buildings, remote learning and meal delivery will continue.
“Here’s the straight skinny of the whole thing: We need to continue our distance learning, our remote learning, and we need to be able to continue to feed our kids and graduate our seniors and celebrate their accomplishments,” he said.
Justice urged school systems to find a date and location for graduation ceremonies over the summer during which high school seniors would be able to “absolutely walk across that stage and receive their diplomas.”
In addition to protecting the health of youth, Justice said he was concerned about the impact returning to school could have on elderly people, such as grandparents, if their grandchildren were infected with COVID-19 and spread it to them.
Justice said trying to go back in May for several days would be “like trying to pound a round peg into a square hole” – especially given that fact that he has not yet pinpointed a date for state workers and other nonessential employees to return to work.
West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch said he knew the decision hadn’t been easy for Justice.
“But our 260,000 students in our public schools are being supported by our school systems with remote learning and meals,” Burch said after Justice’s comments.
He said the West Virginia Board of Education is forming a task force that will tackle the issue of how and when to hold high school graduations for seniors.
“It’s really important that we acknowledge their accomplishments and do everything we can for the Class of 2020,” Burch said.
During his media briefing Tuesday, the governor also addressed residents who want to return to work now or wish West Virginians could have returned to work several weeks ago.
“Look, there is nobody on the planet that wants us to go back to work anymore than I do, but I have a tremendous responsibility to protect you and keep you as safe as I possibly can. There’s some of you that would have had us go back three weeks ago, but I’m telling you, that would have been a bad decision, and I think going back tomorrow could be a bad decision.
“We need to move as quickly as we possibly can with the guidance of medical experts and the National Guard and other kinds of experts,” Justice said. “We don’t want to have to go in and back up and backfill a disaster.”