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Justice unmoved by calls to move winter sports up

Students from Lewis County High School protest outside the State Capitol Building on Friday calling for winter sports to be moved up. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — Despite being greeted at the state Capitol on Friday by more than 25 parents and students with signs asking to “let us play,” Gov. Jim Justice was adamant that Winter sports will start no earlier than March 1.

“They can yell and bark at the moon all they want, but I am telling you without any question we are doing the right thing,” Justice said.

Justice criticized parents and coaches during his end-of-the-week coronavirus briefing for using their children and students to protest and being bad examples to them.

“What these people — coaches or whomever it may be — are pushing these kids to do is these kids are out here yelling and everything,” Justice said. “A lot of them don’t have masks on … yelling ‘let us play, let us play.’ They want to go and play basketball and play whatever winter sport is there. They’re insinuating that I’m the one who is holding them back.”

Justice, a girls basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School who canceled the high school basketball playoffs in March the same day his team was set to play, said he understands why parents and coaches are upset. However, Justice maintains COVID-19 cases need to come down and more people need to be vaccinated before state officials are comfortable allowing teams and fans in gymnasiums.

“How smart could that possibly be?” he said. “We’ll want to go indoors and the next thing we’ll want is we’ll want our parents and grandparents to at least be able to come watch us.”

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission would develop rules and protocols for winter sports as soon as possible and has asked the public for patience, Justice said.

“We’re trying to get vaccines out … we’re trying to take care of people so we save lives,” Justice said. “Just ask yourself one question as an adult. ‘Do we really need to be putting a whole lot of emphasis today on playing sports?'”

Justice also continued to criticize teachers’ unions over concerns raised about ditching the previous school reopening metrics and map and the vaccine plan for teachers. Under the new plan, Pre-K, elementary and middle schools will re-open for in-person school on Jan. 19. High schools can reopen, but if their county is red on the daily Department of Health and Human Resources County Alert System map, they will remain on remote learning.

Teachers age 50 and older also are getting their COVID-19 vaccines, but with both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines requiring two shots spread out weeks apart, teachers’ unions have raised concerns about teachers and school service personnel returning to school with only partial protection from COVID-19.

“You’re far safer (in school) than you’ve be in the grocery store,” Justice said. “Yet, to make it even better for you, we said we would vaccinate all of our teachers … but for some, it’s still not good enough.”

The Department of Education announced Friday that schools can remain at a blended learning model between in-person and distance learning until teachers are able to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. County school systems also have the flexibility to go to remote learning if they feel the spread of the coronavirus in their community is too high.

“The purpose of this recommendation is not to allow counties to back away from the Jan. 19 return date announced by the governor, but instead to strengthen the education support structure for our students keeping our eye on getting students back in the building as soon as possible,” said Miller Hall, president of the West Virginia Board of Education. “The academic and extended needs of our students have suffered too much and our schools are the best way to get them back on track.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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