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Governor Justice announces elementary and middle schools will reopen for in-person learning; winter sports pushed back

Governor Justice holds press conference
Governor Justice holds press conference(WSAZ, Governor Jim Justice)
Published: Dec. 30, 2020 at 12:34 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced he is recommending all West Virginia elementary and middle schools to reopen to in-person learning on January 19.

Governor Justice announced this during a press conference on Wednesday.

He says this gives teachers, staff and students a little more than two weeks to prepare.

However, the West Virginia Department of Education says families still have the option to keep their children in virtual learning regardless of changes to in-person instruction.

West Virginia State Superintendent Clayton Burch says January 4-15 will be a two week period to prepare for the return to in-person classes for students set for January 19. He says remote learning will start on January 4. They will continue feeding students.

Mitigation strategies will be doubled down, according to Superintendent Burch. He says they will continue cleaning and disinfecting, masks will be worn at all times, large gatherings will be eliminated and schools will still work with local health departments.

Students in grades Pre-K through 8th will return to in-person instruction five days each week starting January 19. Students in grades 9 through 12 will also be able to return to in-person school five days per week, as long as their counties aren’t red.

The state will continue to use the map for high schools. Governor Justice says they are using the weekend to tweak the map to “some degrees.” One of the tweaks will be offering in-school learning for all counties that are orange. High schools will not return to in-person if the county is red.

However, the WVDE’s Saturday Education Map will no longer be published. Instead, the DHHR’s County Alert System Map will guide in-person instruction for high schools.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s Coronavirus Czar, says a study found that children under 15 years old were 50% less likely to contract COVID-19 and spread the virus.

He says most outbreaks seen in schools have been from the community.

Governor Justice says during the first semester, COVID-19 transmission rates among students were at .02% and it was .3% with teachers.

He also says in the first semester, the department of education reported one-third of students received failing grades in at least one of their core classes.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources says there has been a reduction of child protective service referrals by an average of 50-54%.

Superintendent Burch says children need to return to in-person instruction, and when key mitigation strategies are followed, it safe for them to do so.

“The research shows it is safe to restore the in-person learning model for parents that chose this option for the children,” said Superintendent Burch. “We also know students are suffering because of the lack of in-person instruction. CPS referrals have decreased, student social and emotional well-being has suffered, and one-third of our students have received failing grades in at least one core subject area. We simply have to get our students back in school, in-person.”

“The Governor understands the data is undeniable,” Superintendent Burch said. “I fully support this decision because we know that heightened transmission rates experienced in communities are not reflected within the schools because of the mitigations in place.”

Governor Justice also announced winter sports and extracurricular activities are postponed until March 1.

The governor discussed COVID-19 vaccines and says they are committed to get all teachers, staff and service personnel vaccinated. He says they will offer vaccines to all teachers and staff immediately for anyone over the age of 50. He says they plan to get this accomplished within the next two to three weeks.

They will double back and go back and get teachers and service personnel at schools under the age of 50 after that.

Vaccinations for those ages 80 or older in the general population will begin as early as Wednesday, December 30. Locations and times will be announced soon. The federally qualified health clinics will reach out to you when they get vaccines in hand.

Governor Justice says after a good amount of those older than 80 years old get vaccinated, they could start vaccinating those 60 or older and move down.

West Virginia is still leading the way for coronavirus vaccinations, according to the Governor.

Corrections staff have started receiving the COVID-19 vaccines as of Wednesday.

This is a developing story.

Keep checking the WSAZ App for the latest information.

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