CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced today that he will be closing pre-k through 12 schools at the end of school today until further notice. He says it is important to make sure the needs of students are taken care of, and closing the schools will also help prevent the spread of the virus should it reach West Virginia.
This order does not apply to West Virginia’s childcare system such as daycare centers and home-based childcare providers. Justice says he has recommended all community and private schools also close and follow the guidance of the state.
At this time, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia, but Justice says he does not want to wait to put precautionary measures in place.
“What if we awaken to a real-life bad situation? What if all of a sudden, we awaken to a situation where we’ve lost a bunch of our elderly people? How are you going to answer the question?” Justice says. “Because then, at that point in time, we react — boom — and we close the schools. How are you going to answer the question of ‘why did you wait?'”
Justice says West Virginia is a state that has a great responsibility to make sure students are fed and safe, so he did not make the decision lightly. According to the governor, over the next few days, the WVDE will develop guidance for pre-K-12 schools to ensure the continuity of important student services, including a strategy for providing meals.
“I feel like in my heart that the probability is likely that we will have to close our schools,” Justice says. “To me, the risk outweighs the good (of keeping the schools open).”
While schools are closed to students, faculty and staff are expected to report to work, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. The WVDE has been working with county superintendents for several weeks to update emergency preparedness plans, which will now be implemented. Each county has worked with its local health department to meet the specific needs of children, families and communities.
West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch says, “There are roughly 200,000 kids that rely on school for food. We have every county giving us an emergency plan on how they will help those kids.”
Kanawha County Schools released a statement saying all eight high schools will serve as food prep sites for bagged lunches beginning Monday, March 16. Bagged lunches will be available at the high schools beginning at 10:30 a.m. each day and going until noon or 12:30 p.m. Buses will also transport bagged meals to each of the feeder elementary and middle schools. Bagged meals will be available at all feeder schools between 11 a.m. – noon.
Kanawha County Schools also says all of its teachers will be required to post work for their students through Schoology, Remind, Class Dojo, or whatever communication method they use to contact parents. More information is available on the school district’s website and social media.
“I support the Governor’s decision to cancel school as a preemptive measure to combat the spread of the coronavirus,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, W. Clayton Burch. “The health and safety of our children is our foremost concern. We will work closely with our community partners, including the West Virginia National Guard, state agencies, organizations, school employees and families to meet the needs of our students whether it be food distribution or other important supports.”
The WVDE said in a press release that it has been actively working with the federal government to ensure that students relying on school breakfast and lunch programs will continue to receive those meals. The organization will support counties in addressing any other flexibilities that need to be implemented to assist children and families while schools are closed.
“West Virginia is a low-risk state because there isn’t much international travel here. The governor is being proactive in closing the schools,” Bill Crouch, WV Department Health and Human Resources, says.
“The decision by Governor Justice to close West Virginia schools due to the coronavirus outbreak was the most prudent decision based on the advice we have received from public health experts, including the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci. They have made it clear that the most effective way we can mitigate the spread is to minimize large gatherings and social contact for the immediate future,” Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) says.
Burch says he will continue to work closely with Justice, the WVDHHR and other state agencies to monitor the situation and provide updates to counties as developments occur.
Earlier this month, Justice and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced an information hotline to address public and medical provider questions and concerns regarding the coronavirus. Anyone with questions can call 24/7, toll-free, at 1-800-887-4304.