CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Officials with the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – West Virginia say they do not agree with the changes to the plan for school re-entry.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, along with state health and education officials, added a fifth level to the system this morning, creating a “gold” category between the yellow and orange levels. Justice originally proposed the category Monday to balance the “too wide” orange level.

“We are angry that our state leaders continue to manipulate the color-coded map guiding the re-opening of school. Employees and parents need to have a system with continuity and stability in order to make plans and facilitate learning,” WVEA President Dale Lee said. “We think it is unwise and unnecessary to change course in the middle of the week. It was deemed too dangerous
for in-person school on Saturday and little has changed except the re-coding of the map.”

West Virginia COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said the decision to make the change came partially due to the fact that the map, which was adapted from the Harvard Global Health Insitute, had the opposite effect in regards to testing across the state. He said it unintentionally “motivating people to test less,” whereas the state needs people to test more to have more accurate data.

The AFT-WV says while they agree increasing testing is imperative in gaining a more accurate reflection of the infection rates in our communities, they say they do not believe changing the metrics for school attendance is the way to do so.

“AFT-WV questions the effectiveness of a constantly changing metric for school attendance. Employees, parents, and students need a system they can trust and easily understand. While the ultimate goal is for every student to be taught in-person, the Governor should not pursue that goal at the expense of any child or employee’s health and safety,” AFT-WV president Fred Albert said.

The continued tweaking of our school reentry guidelines from day to day does not instill confidence in the system or in the leaders making the decisions. The changes do not seem to be based on processing information but simply devising ways around the current system to ensure in-person learning and athletic contests occur – regardless of the risks.

WVEA President Dale Lee

The gold level includes counties with a seven-day rolling average of 10-14.9 daily cases per 100,000 people, averages originally assigned to the orange level.

Earlier today, the West Virginia Department of Education shared where counties currently stand on the School Alert System map based on the County Alert System map released by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Saturday, Sept. 12:

  • Red (Substantial Community Transmission):  Monongalia
  • Orange (Heightened Community Transmission): Kanawha and Monroe
  • Gold (Elevated Community Transmission): Boone, Fayette, Logan, Mingo and Putnam
  • Yellow (Increased Community Transmission): Berkeley, Brooke, Cabell, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Grant, Greenbrier, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, McDowell, Mercer, Ohio, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Roane, Summers, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur and Wayne
  • Green (Minimal Community Transmission): Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Hardy, Hampshire, Lewis, Marion, Marshall,  Mason, Mineral, Morgan, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pleasants, Preston, Randolph, Ritchie, Tyler, Webster, Wetzel, Wood, Wirt and Wyoming

The next School Alert System map update is scheduled for Saturday, September 19, 2020, at 5:00 p.m., according to the WVDE.

While the WVDE says schools moved to gold will have the option to return to school as early as tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 16, the WVEA says the counties should not return to in-person class this week, but wait until Saturday’s update to before moving to in-person learning next week.

The WVEA says a recent member survey showed two-thirds of its members identified themselves as at-risk or having a family member at risk for contracting COVID-19.

“We continue to be frustrated and disillusioned that the rules keep changing regarding what is safe for our employees and students. The governor has spoken many times about the at-risk nature of our citizens and our educators,” Lee said.

The AFT-WV says while the state’s goal is to allow for every student to be safely taught in person, they believe this should only be done once it is completely safe to do so.

“We want our schools opened for face to face learning only when it is safe for students and staff. Additionally, our schools must have adequate PPE and proper sanitation supplies, and follow the protocols and procedures put forth by the local and state health experts,” AFT-WV officials said.

Members of the WVEA say the change to the system brings about a risk to teachers, service professionals and students as there “are no guarantees” the change will not have a negative impact on health and safety in schools.

“The governor said our banner must be ‘It has to be Safe,'” Lee said. “They have no idea whether these changes will put teachers, service professionals or students in harm’s way. I certainly understand the need to have our students in school but if doing so risks the health of our school
employees, students or their families, it is not worth the risk.”

The WVEA also says they’re urging the governor and state officials not to exclude WVU students from the totals for Monongalia County. Lee says this is because the campus is spread throughout the city and students are not confined to a single location and some even commute to other counties.

“They live throughout the community, shop and work in the local businesses, and eat in local restaurants. Students’ actions are not restricted, and no special provisions should be made for them in the county totals,” Lee said.