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West Virginia teachers union plans lawsuit over state BOE plan

Wood County Schools readying in-person classes

(Photo Illustration)

PARKERSBURG — A statewide teachers union is planning to file an injunction regarding the return of students to in-person schooling next week, while the Wood County Board of Education has announced its plans for handling the transition.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia announced Thursday that it plans to file an injunctive action against the West Virginia Board of Education, the West Virginia Department of Education, and several county boards of education in order to protect the health and safety of school employees.

The announcement came a day after the WVBE’s vote that PreK-8 schools will attend in-person instruction regardless of their county’s color on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources County Alert System map starting on Jan. 19.

The AFT-WV will also file an amicus brief in support of any county board that continues to assert its legal right to govern its school system and make locally-based decisions to protect students, staff, and communities

“We feel the local school board should have the authority to decide how and when they want to reopen their schools. We just think that’s the best way because they know what’s going on in their local communities. For that authority to be taken away by the State Board of Education, flies in the face of local control. So that’s why we’re taking the measures that we have taken,” said Fred Albert, President of AFT-WV.

“We want schools to reopen. We want students to be back in school. We know that remote instruction is difficult for everyone. It’s very difficult for the teachers, it’s difficult for children, especially those who have connectivity problems. But we feel that should be a local school board decision. We’re defending our members, our teachers, service personnel, students and their families in this being a local school board decision,” he said.

AFT-WV represents teachers and school service personnel in public schools, as well as the interests of teachers, counselors, librarians, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, nurses, classroom aides, clerical employees. AFT-WV does not represent administrators.

The announcement stated that the AFT-WV’s attorney is currently in the process of drafting the filing and will be filing it as soon as it is complete, likely early next week.

Another issue is forcing a return to in-person learning without the entire faculty and staff not being vaccinated by next Tuesday. Albert said that according to the WVDE, a survey was sent out to state school employees if they would want the vaccination. Seventy-five percent of employees said they would take the vaccine, but some of them were unable to get the vaccination, according to Albert.

“We’re asking for them to hold off until they can get their employees vaccinated if they want it and add that extra layer of safety,” Albert said. “If we could stay remote until the vaccination starts getting out and doing its work. We feel that would be a safer place for everyone. And once that would take place, then we could start bringing students back into the classroom five days a week for classes.

Locally, Wood County Schools will resume in-person classes Jan. 19, but will provide options for parents wishing to continue with remote learning.

The school system returns to a blended learning format beginning Jan. 19 with all students attending five day a week on-campus classes beginning Feb. 15. The blended format is similar to what was used at the start of the school year except Fridays also will be in-person learning.

“Our goal since day one has been to get students back on campus and into the classroom,” said Superintendent Will Hosaflook. “We believe Feb. 15 is a strategic date where numerous factors related to school re-entry will come together. We are very thankful the governor’s executive order and the WVDE guidance will allow this to become a reality.”

Students will attend using alternating schedule by last name. Students in Group A (last name A-K) attend school on campus Mondays and Wednesdays. Students in Group A will learn remotely off campus on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and alternating Fridays.

Students in Group B (last name L-Z) attend school on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students in Group B will learn remotely off campus on Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternating Fridays.

Hosaflook said the blended format will provide a transition period for students and staff while COVID-19 vaccinations are being administered to teachers and service personnel.

Students in K-8 also have the option of distance learning where students receive instruction online via Teams meetings and through Schoology. Limited space will be available due to class size limits and available courses.

High school students in grades 9-12 would have the option of five day a week remote learning, where assignments are provided each day through Schoology.

Those students wishing to remain with the West Virginia Learns virtual school may do so without change. The new semester for virtual school begins Jan. 25.

Wood County Schools plans to return to five day a week in-person instruction beginning Feb. 15 for students who opt to attend on campus.

Students in grades 9-12 also will begin five day a week in-person classes Feb. 15, but under the current governor’s order on-campus classes will still be based on the DHHR COVID-19 map. If marked red on a Sunday, high school students would switch to remote learning for the week. If red on a weekday, students would switch to remote learning the following day and the remainder of the week.

The updated re-entry plan can be found online at www.woodcountyschoolswv.com and via the district’s app and Facebook page.

Contact Tyler Bennett at tbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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