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West Virginia Superintendent: Schools ready for Sept. 8 start

State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch explains how the school re-opening plans will work. (Photo Provided)

CHARLESTON — With the Tuesday, Sept. 8, start date for public and private schools in West Virginia to re-open over than a week away, State Superintendent of School Clayton Burch said Friday he is confident that schools will be ready.

Burch joined Gov. Jim Justice Friday during his coronavirus briefing at the State Capitol Building in Charleston.

“The superintendents, the leadership, the teachers have done an excellent job getting ready,” Burch said.

All 55 county school systems were required to submit their re-entry plans to the state Aug. 14. The plans include scenarios for five-day in-person classes, a hybrid of in-person and distance learning, and all virtual learning. Burch said the focus is on choice, with counties choosing what plans to start off the school year with.

Parents also have a choice to send their children back to school or opt-in to a virtual learning program. Burch said nearly 27 percent of families have opted for virtual learning.

“We want to continue focusing on parental choice,” Burch said. “Parents have got to have a decision and a choice to make whether or not it is in person, whether or not it is virtual. We’re doing everything we can to assist the counties and help them to make sure they’re prepared for either mode. We also know those local plans have been turned in. There’s a lot of local control we’re focusing on.”

Guiding re-opening decisions is the new County Alert System map developed by the Department of Health and Human Resources and State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh. Available at wvde.us and coronavirus.wv.gov, the map is based on the Harvard Global Health Institute map.

Counties with a population of 16,000 or more are graded on a seven-day rolling average of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, while counties with less than 16,000 people are graded on a 14-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 people.

The color-coded map will be updated every Saturday night on the Department of Education’s COVID-19 website to guide re-opening decisions and extracurricular activities for the week ahead. Green (three or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people) and yellow (3.1 to 9.9 cases per 100,000 people) would allow for in-person classes, though social distance restrictions would be tightened as a school transitions to yellow.

Orange (10 to 24.9 cases per 100,000 people) which tighten those restrictions further, as well as prohibit large assemblies and cancel sports and extracurricular activities except for practices. Red (25 or more cases per 100,000 people) would cancel all in-person school and extracurricular activities.

Starting tonight, any counties in the orange and red categories will not be allowed to re-open for in-person school until they move into the yellow or green categories. Those counties would also not be able to participate in fall sports and extracurricular activities. Counties in the orange as of Friday included Kanawha, Logan, Mingo, and Monroe counties.

“If you are green or yellow, you are good to go to begin competing with athletics next week,” Burch said. “If you’re orange, you can continue practicing and if you’re red, it’s a danger zone and everything is closed down. It’s our trial run for the big date, which is Sept. 5. Every Saturday at 9 p.m. you’ll be able to see the map and on Sept. 5th that map will guide you in re-opening schools.”

Burch said the Department of Education’s website will soon have a frequently asked questions page to address questions and concerns of parents. The department has also launched a hotline at 304-957-1234 to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“Many of the questions tend to be about gearing up, being excited, whether it be when do I need to pay attention to the map, what days are really important,” Burch said.

Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinal.com

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