Who should make the decisions about heading back to school?
Since planning started for the late summer 2020 return to school in a pandemic, Mon County Schools and other county school systems have been in a tug of war with the state over where decision-making power lies for the way instruction is conducted at any given time—in person, remotely, or some blend of the two. Now two organizations have filed to have the question settled in court and decide for good who should make the call.
The state has offered guidance the whole way through—there was the Harvard map, then the state made its own map, then it added additional colors to it—while allowing local school boards to make final decisions on student attendance. But in late December, the state, citing evidence that one in three students is failing a core subject and that child protective services referrals have decreased by half, changed its tune and wants kids back in school as close to full-time as possible immediately. Now the maps are to be largely ignored, at least for elementary and middle schools—and recent action by the state has rendered local school boards nearly powerless.
Here’s the most recent go-round. The Mon County School Board decided on January 12 that, with case numbers high and vaccinations underway, schools should remain remote until mid-February, when most teachers and support staff would be vaccinated. The state Board of Education said no: Return to at least blended learning on January 19. Local health experts have agreed that blended learning right now is safe for Mon County. The county school board filed a waiver to stick with remote learning anyway, and the state has refused, thus far, to grant it. Therefore kids headed back to the classroom January 21.
The local board met again in an emergency meeting this week, and many members, at least four, felt their hands were tied. The board voted 4-to-1 to rescind the plan for remote attendance through mid-February and align the county’s back-to-school plan with the wishes of the state unless Campbell’s waiver was ultimately approved by formal action.
Enter the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia Chapter and the West Virginia Education Association. Both organizations filed legal documents January 20. One of those documents seeks a temporary restraining order on behalf of Mon County Schools, insisting that the state allow locals to have the decision-making power in situations like these.
The question remains: Who should make decisions, especially in this pandemic world, that impact local schools, your children, and your family members who work in the school system? Guess we’ll have to see what the courts have to say about it. Stay tuned.