COVID-19 UPDATE: Gov. Justice announces reopening plan for West Virginia schools

8/5/2020

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CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials today for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.

WEST VIRGINIA SCHOOLS REOPENING PLAN
During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice joined State education and health leaders to unveil the multifaceted plan that will be used to reopen all pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools in West Virginia and will also provide multiple options and resources to allow all students to resume their education.

“I’ve told you repeatedly that there’s no chance in the world, to the best of all my abilities, will I put a kid, a teacher, our service personnel, or anyone into a situation that’s unsafe,” Gov. Justice said. “Today, I am extremely proud to announce that we have a safe method to reopen our schools that we built in from a standpoint of local control and scientific metrics.” 

 

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Timeline and options
Gov. Justice announced that the target date for school re-entry currently remains Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. Local data including community spread and infection rates will continue to be monitored to ensure students and staff are able to return to school safely.

All 55 counties are required to submit their re-entry plans to the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) by Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. Each county will offer multiple options for instruction, including in-person instruction, virtual instruction, or a hybrid model. Parents and guardians will have the flexibility to select their preferred instruction model.

In-person instruction and hybrid models would place students in the classroom for a set number of days based on each county’s re-entry plan.  However, generally, the hybrid option will feature reduced days or reduced hours of in-person instruction, combined with distance or virtual learning.

Virtual instruction would serve as an option for parents or guardians who have concerns about sending their child back to school. Virtual instruction will require complete online learning with a broadband or wifi access.

All counties must have plans in place to minimize exposure and to implement best health practices like social distancing, face coverings, hand washing, and disinfection protocols. They must also provide a plan to continue to feed children daily, regardless of the mode of instruction they choose and they must continue to provide support services for students who may require additional assistance.

 

Safety metrics
If a county were to see substantial community transmission, Gov. Justice, State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch, and the affected county superintendent would work together on additional actions to keep schools safe, including stopping in-person instruction and going to full remote learning if necessary.

Gov. Justice announced Wednesday that he has directed the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and State medical experts to work with the WVDE to develop a metric that will be used to indicate when it is safe to go to school and when community transmission rises to a level where additional action may be necessary.

The Governor announced that the metric, which is still in development, will be based on each county’s rate of COVID-19 cases over certain periods of time.

As soon as the metric is finalized, it will be made publicly available. The numbers for each county will be posted to an online dashboard and a map for the public to see.

“Over the next 10 to 14 days or so, we will develop a code system,” Gov. Justice said. “From that, what we’ll do is be able to look at an area and say, ‘This county has this level of the metric and it is beyond what we think is acceptable for the schools to be open.’ From there, in that county at that point in time, we would not have schools open. We would do it all virtually until we get the numbers back down.”

Depending on how each county is performing in the metric, they will each be assigned one of four colors: green, yellow, orange, or red.

Green indicates that a county is experiencing minimal community transmission, allowing counties to operate under general re-entry guidelines while continuing to follow best health practices to prevent the spread of the disease.

Yellow indicates that a county is experiencing moderate community transmission and increased restrictions may be necessary.

Orange indicates that a county is experiencing higher community transmission and further restrictions will be necessary, in collaboration with local health officials.

Red indicates that a county is experiencing substantial community transmission. Under these conditions all in-person instruction would be suspended and remote learning plans would be activated. Staff would continue essential support services, including meals, student engagement, and special education.

Each county’s performance in respect to the safety metric will be continuously evaluated by DHHR and updated on the online dashboard and map resources.

 

Kids Connect: Broadband expansion
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that in order to ensure all West Virginia students have the access to broadband that they need to participate in virtual or remote learning, he is committing $6 million to his new Kids Connect initiative.

Under this program, the Governor’s Office of Technology will work alongside the WVDE and the Higher Education Policy Commission to establish over 1,000 free wireless internet access points statewide by Sept. 8, with locations in all 55 counties.

“Today, there’s 40 percent of our state where our kids can get onto broadband,” Gov. Justice said. “What this will enable them to do is go to one of these 1,000 locations and go into a parking lot, or whatever it may be, and download their online assignments.”

The access points will be in the parking lots of all Pre-K-12 schools, totaling 688 sites. Additional access points will be provided at 32 higher education institutions, 255 libraries, and 31 of West Virginia’s state parks. 

Later in his address, the Governor also announced that he is planning to work alongside the WVDE and each county board of education to make sure that all students have access to devices like laptops and tablets so they can participate in virtual learning. 

“If they don’t have a laptop or a tablet, what we want to do is be able to provide one for every kid in this state,” Gov. Justice said. “We’re going to make sure that our kids can get online. We’re going to deliver a quality education to all of our kids.”

 

Transportation
During his remarks, the Governor added that he is working with education leaders to ensure that, if a student needs transportation to school, a feeding location, a Kids Connect broadband access point, or to sports practice, transportation will be provided through each county’s bus system.

“We’re going to send buses so we can get our kids to these needs as best as they possibly can,” Gov. Justice said. “Is it tough? Yes. But there is nothing more important than providing our kids with access to these resources and opportunities.”

 

School sports
Gov. Justice added that he and Superintendent Burch continue to work alongside West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan on how to make sure our athletes are safe, and how to account for the possibility that some counties may have to stop in-person sporting events if community transmission rises to a high level.

 

Private and Christian schools
The Governor also announced today that he is providing $1.6 million to all private and Christian schools across the state to use for their reopening plans.

“We know all the great work you do,” Gov. Justice said. “It is phenomenal, the successes you have and we commend you in every way on that.”

The funding will come out of West Virginia’s portion of Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds, provided by the U.S. Department of Education to support educational needs in each state related to COVID-19. The GEER funds, approved by Congress through the CARES Act, are a separate allocation from the $1.25 billion in discretionary funds appropriated to the State.

“This money will flow to you immediately to help you be better prepared to reopen your schools as well,” Gov. Justice continued.

The Governor added that the WVDE has another $1.6 million for private and Christian schools that came from another federal bucket of money. However, those funds are currently tied up in a lawsuit. Gov. Justice pledged that, if the legal problems are cleared up, the additional $1.6 million will also be sent for COVID-19 response purposes.

 

Community
Finally, the Governor discussed how, in many cases, schools are seen as a community lifeline to children who may be in need of support.

“We all know that in a lot of instances, the safest place a kid can be is in school,” Gov. Justice said. “We know that there are all kinds of people, from our health experts to all kinds of people from the education community, who are working to provide that place where we can recognize trauma or abuse or neglect and we can aid in helping kids if we have them where we can have our eyes on them.”

 

Education leaders comment on reopening plan
In his remarks during today’s briefing, State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch praised Gov. Justice’s reopening plan.

“It’s hard not to rally behind the Governor when he has such a caring heart,” Superintendent Burch said. “But he’s been clear from day one, and we continue to reiterate we’re going to do a few things, and one is we will make sure it's healthy and safe.”

Superintendent Burch added that, with the support of the Governor and First Lady Cathy Justice bolstering the Communities In Schools program across West Virginia, schools with CIS programs were better-prepared to assist students in need of resources and materials during the pandemic.

“I’m glad the Governor mentioned Communities In Schools,” Superintendent Burch added. “I thank the First Lady, Mrs. Justice, for being our champion for Communities In Schools. But the Governor is right; we were much more prepared. We were prepared to take care of the children that the schools are there to take care of.

“We want to create the most equitable education system we can during this crazy, crazy time,” Burch continued. “And, even though we’re in a pandemic, every one of us in the education field, the health field...we’re going to make sure that every one of these children are taken care of.

“We also want to challenge the communities. The communities hold the key to making it safe for our children. If we can keep those numbers low we can get our children back to the closest thing to normalcy we can and that includes school, that includes sports, that includes all those activities and services that we all associate with our schools.”

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, Chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System added that the Governor’s Kids Connect initiative will be a game-changing program for years to come.

“When we surveyed our college students, we found out that more than a third of them didn’t have access to the internet at home,” Dr. Tucker said. “With this critical project, Governor Justice is filling an urgent need that will allow both K-12 and college students to complete schoolwork in convenient locations across the state.

“We are tremendously grateful that the Governor has developed this immediate plan for our students to access broadband close to home this fall.”

GOVERNOR URGES AGAINST EVICTIONS
Following his segment on school reopening plans Wednesday, Gov. Justice urged landowners, landlords, and banks to be patient with those who may not be able to pay rent and are facing the possibility of being evicted during a pandemic.

“We have people that are scared to death because they are going to get evicted from their homes or apartments,” Gov. Justice said. “I would plead with those landlords not to proceed down this course. 

“It’s not right,” Gov. Justice continued. You’ve got people that are on unemployment and everything and they’re waiting because now their checks and their payments are being somewhat suspended – those bonus dollars that they need very badly.

“They are drivers to our economy. We absolutely need to help these people. And so, from the standpoint of our landowners, our landlords, and our banks, please give these people a pass for right now. They really, really need it.”

 

ACTIVE CHURCH OUTBREAKS REMAIN IN FOUR COUNTIES
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced church-related outbreaks remain active in four counties across West Virginia, including Grant, Logan, Mason, and Taylor counties.

These outbreaks account for about 89 total cases combined.

During the briefing, the Governor was also joined by Pastor Matt Friend and Michelle Thompson from Bible Center Church in Charleston, who took time to thank all of the churches across the state who have helped their communities through the pandemic and encourage churches to do their part to make sure their congregations are as safe as possible.

FREE COVID-19 TESTING
Gov. Justice also updated the schedule of upcoming free community COVID-19 testing events taking place over the next several weeks at various dates and times in Boone, Brooke, Jackson, Lewis, McDowell, and Taylor counties.

The effort is part of a plan to provide free optional testing to all residents in several counties that are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 transmission. It targets residents who have struggled to be seen by a physician or do not have insurance to pay for testing. However, other residents, including those who are asymptomatic are welcome to be tested.

Testing details listed below in chronological order:

Jackson County
August 7

12:00 PM - 6:00 PM
River Front Park: 220 Riverfront Park, Ravenswood, WV
August 8
12:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Cedar Lakes Conference Center: 82 FFA Drive, Ripley, WV

McDowell County
August 7

8:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Southside Middle School: 13509 Rocket Boys Drive, War, WV
August 8
8:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Tug Lot: 198 Tug Tower Addition Road, Welch, WV

Taylor County
August 8

8:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Grafton High School: 400 Yates Avenue, Grafton, WV

Brooke County
August 14 & 15

9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Bethany College
Hummel Field House: 6268 Main Street, Bethany, WV

Lewis County
August 14
9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
August 15
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Lewis County High School: 205 Minute Man Drive, Weston, WV 

Boone County
August 25
10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Madison Civic Center: 261 Washington Avenue, Madison, WV

 

SMALL BUSINESS GRANT APPLICATIONS
Also on Monday, Gov. Justice offered a reminder that applications are available for small businesses seeking to receive funding through the Governor’s West Virginia CARES Act Small Business Grant Program.

The initiative is providing $150 million of West Virginia’s CARES Act funding to qualifying businesses across the state. Any West Virginia-based small business, in existence on March 1, 2020, with 1-35 employees, is able to apply for up to $5,000 in grant funding.

Businesses planning to apply must first be registered as a vendor with the State to be eligible. Guidelines for the grants and instructions on how to apply are available at Grants.wv.gov.

The application will remain open until Sept. 30, 2020.

 

CITIES/COUNTIES GRANT FUNDING: $68.1 MILLION HAS NOW BEEN AWARDED
Also today, Gov. Justice provided an update on cities and counties throughout West Virginia applying for funds through the federal CARES Act, reporting that more than $68.1 million has now been awarded all across the state.

A new web portal is now available for city and county government officials to apply for this grant funding, at grants.wv.gov. Interested parties can also call the helpline: 1-833-94-GRANT.

Each of the recipients of CARES Act funding, along with grant amounts, are now available to view through the COVID-19 transparency web portal provided by West Virginia State Auditor’s Office.

 

WEST VIRGINIA STRONG SUMMER FOOD ASSISTANCE MAP
Also, Gov. Justice reminded West Virginians that an interactive free-feeding location map, designed to help connect citizens in need to food resources across the state, is available online.

Click here to view the map

More than 696 free-feeding locations have now been made available through a multi-agency effort between the West Virginia National Guard, the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, the West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WV VOAD), and the United Way.

If food distribution locations aren't available in some communities, individuals are encouraged to call 211 for further assistance.

 

WEST VIRGINIANS URGED TO PARTICIPATE IN CENSUS
Once more today, Gov. Justice asked all West Virginians to participate in the 2020 United States Census.

Every West Virginian who does not respond to the Census represents a loss of $20,000 in federal funds over the next 10 years for the state and its local communities. The funds can go toward things like healthcare, education, infrastructure, school lunch programs, and more.

Be counted in minutes: 2020census.gov.

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Click here to view all Executive Orders and other actions taken by Gov. Justice to combat the spread of COVID-19 in West Virginia.

For more information about COVID-19 prevention and more, call the State’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-887-4304 or visit Coronavirus.wv.gov.

 


Contact Information

Jordan Damron, jordan.l.damron@wv.gov

Contact

Office of the Governor
State Capitol, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E
Charleston, WV 25305

Office Phone:
304.558.2000 or 1.888.438.2731

Governor's Mansion:
304.558.3588

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