Upshur County schools closing for the remainder of 2020

The Upshur County Board of Education has voted to move to fully remote instruction through the rest of the year, effective immediately.

At the board meeting Tuesday night, members unanimously approved the motion to move to remote learning through January 4, 2021. Fred Eberle Technical Center will remain open.

The decision comes as the number of COVID-19 cases remains at high levels both locally and statewide. Because of high levels of community spread, Upshur County has reported a red-level infection rate for the past five days and 76 cases are active locally, according to the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department.

Upshur County announced 11 new cases on Tuesday morning, and even more are expected Wednesday. The health department reported 391 total cases Tuesday evening, which is 19 more than the DHHR’s morning update.

Only elementary schools in Upshur County were open to students this week after Buckhannon-Upshur High School and Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School were forced to close due to a lack of available substitute teachers.

Gov. Jim Justice had already announced schools statewide would be closed for at least a week — and possibly longer — after Thanksgiving. He said the closure, which lasts through Dec. 2, would give health officials time to assess the spread of the virus over the holidays.

Justice also postponed the start of winter sports until 2021.

The number of COVID-19 cases in West Virginia has skyrocketed in November as residents move indoors. Active cases have more than doubled, hospitalizations are at record levels and ICUs are beginning to reach capacity in some parts of the state.

Nearly 150 West Virginians have died from COVID-19 just this month.

Meanwhile, the map used to determine school openings state has become less reliable due to increases in rapid testing and longer wait times to get those results verified. In Upshur County, for example, more than half the cases reported in the last seven days are excluded from the map coloring calculation.

Justice unveiled the map in August as a way to safely allow students to return to the classroom and said the state was focused on in-person learning. However, despite more than a dozen tweaks to the map metrics, school reopenings have been met with mixed success in different parts of the state.

In Upshur County, for example, most students will have been in school for less than 10 days by the end of the year because high levels of community spread has persisted for weeks.

And because of the governor’s closures and holiday breaks, Upshur County students were only expected to be in the classroom for about six days through the rest of the year even before Tuesday’s decision by the school board.

The West Virginia Educator’s Association has called for schools statewide to be closed for the remainder of the year.

In an effort to keep schools open and reduce the spread of the virus in West Virginia communities, Justice unveiled a beefed-up mask mandate on Friday.

Click here to read about this week’s school map, or here to read today’s DHHR update story.

This is a breaking news update. Additional info to follow.

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