CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The West Virginia Education Association filed an injunction in Kanawha County Circuit Court to challenge the safety of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s school re-entry map.
WVEA President Dale Lee announced the organization’s intention to file last week. Lee says the organization’s injunction seeks to adopt a new system to determine school re-entry.
“Our members have watched the constant manipulation of the map. As each rendition failed to provide the desired results sought by our state leaders, additional changes were made,” Lee said. “The only way to restore confidence in the process and ensure safety in our public schools is to adopt a new system from independent experts recognized in the field of infectious diseases and public health, such as the original color-coded map from Harvard.”
The WVEA says the filing seeks injunctive relief, including a temporary restraining order and for the West Virginia Open Meeting Act to be enforced as they say it pertains to the experts making changes to the map and the panel allegedly adjusting the map before it is posted.
“We have seen the manipulation of the map’s colors and metrics on numerous occasions as protests occurred and pressure was placed on the governor. Now we are seeing the manipulation of the testing numbers as a result of the change made to the map using the positivity rate for counties to re-open,” says Lee. “The fact that the manipulation is occurring, and people are bragging about getting tested on multiple days show that the map and its metrics are not looking out for the safety of our students and employees and should not be used as the criteria for school re-opening.”
The organization alleges the most recent changes to the map were done to create an illusion of a “green map” and they say they do not mean it is safe to return to in-person learning in some counties at this time. According to the map, Kanawha County is able to return to in-person learning for the first time this school year.
“We know how important it is for students to be back in classrooms working with their teachers. No one wants in-person education more than our members, but they no longer feel their safety is the top priority of our state government’s leadership,” said Lee. “Our goal is for students to return to school as soon as possible but we must be able to do that safely based on the circumstances in individual counties.”
Lee says in some schools, space is limited, making social distancing difficult or impossible in many cases. He says a single case of or exposure to a case of COVID-19 in these schools could require the entire school to isolate due to the lack of space needed for appropriate social distancing.
The WVEA also alleges employees at some schools say they do not have adequate PPE and that wearing facial coverings allegedly “appears lax” in some buildings.
“School employees are particularly impacted by the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing,” adds Lee. “As the governor has stated many times, a large portion of our teaching population is older and more at risk for COVID. Over 2/3 of our members have identified that either they or someone in their immediate household have conditions that put them at risk.”
During his Monday afternoon COVID-19 briefing, the Governor called the move “all politics.”
“Isn’t it awfully coincidental that this is done three or four weeks before the election. I mean its political,” said Governor Jim Justice. But Lee disputes the claim, saying it comes down to a matter of safety.
Lee added, “This is not a political move, this is a matter of safety — to protect our teachers, our staff, our students, and their families.”