A Safe Return to School

As plans are being made for back to school, West Virginia COVID-19 cases have been skyrocketing throughout July. In a state that leads the nation for the percent of children being raised by grandparents and for adults at higher risk of illness if infected by coronavirus, we must be very, very cautious as we make plans to return to school. Safety for teachers, students, and their families must be paramount.

We're asking Governor Justice, State Superintendent Burch, members of the WV State School board, and county superintendents to follow these recommendations as they consider reopening schools to in-person learning:

Our Students First: A Safe Return to School

  • Start schools remotely. Following CDC guidelines, begin in-person instruction only after 14 consecutive days of no new cases of COVID-19.

    • After the 14-day mark, in-person instruction should be slowly phased in and monitored for any new outbreak in cases.

  • Provide remote-school training for teachers, students, and parents.

    • Utilize county school websites and the West Virginia Department of Education website to offer user-friendly training.

    • Allow staff to complete training modules at home.

  • Release video/radio/media messages to prepare families for what to expect upon starting remotely.  

    • For example, how to use online platforms, what the expectations for hours and student and parent participation are, where to go for questions, etc.

  • Provide ways for students to “meet” their teacher(s) and school staff.

    • Host outdoor “Back to School” events where, at staggered times, students and parents/caregivers can meet their teacher(s) and school staff, receive supplies for the upcoming year, and discuss their needs and obstacles for the upcoming year.

  • Address students’ emotional/mental health.

    • Have teachers review last year’s roster to identify high-risk students. Check-in with all students weekly by phone, and create a referral system for serious issues to be sent to counselors and social workers.

  • Prioritize students with special needs.

    • Some school staff may need to do home visits (and be compensated for mileage) or provide hands-on learning at certain sites in a county. School systems should consult Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and reach out to students’ families to ensure they are provided services.

  • Waive the 180 day (or equivalent minute) requirement for the 2020-2021 school year.

  • Utilize the CARES Act money (and any future COVID-19 response money) to:

    • Provide internet access and/or technology to families in need.

    • Provide childcare for families with caregivers who must work.

    • Hire additional staff so that student safety is paramount.

  • Utilize Local School Improvement Councils (LSICs) to plan and monitor school reentry.

    • LSICs should update their school crisis prevention and management plans to document best practices during COVID-19.

  • Inspect and approve the ventilation systems of all school buildings for proper airflow prior to resuming any in-person learning.

    • Inspections must be completed by an independent agency. If systems do not pass inspection, alternative locations must be utilized. Make the inspection reports public.

  • Provide regular, widespread, and free COVID-19 testing and contact tracing for staff and students with an average turn-around time of 48 hours or less.

    • All staff should be tested before in-person learning begins.

    • Issue clear procedures for when someone tests positive.

  • Furnish PPE (masks and face shields, wipes, gloves, sanitizer, etc) for employees and students.

    • PPE must be on site before schools start in-person.

  • Mandate and monitor mask-wearing at all times in West Virginia schools.

  • Release video/radio/media messages to prepare students and families for what to expect upon arrival to school.

    • FAQ - e.g., demonstrating mask-wearing, social distancing, greeting friends, etc.

  • Ensure six feet of social distancing between students and staff at all times in school buildings.

  • Enforce strict classroom caps of 20 or fewer students.

  • Implement reasonable accommodations for students / staff with underlying medical conditions.

    • Provide alternate assignments (with the same pay) for employees who cannot be in their normal work area.

  • Establish clear guidelines in case of an outbreak necessitating a return to remote learning.

    • Guidelines should include how to contact families, food accessibility, how students will hear from teachers, etc.

  • Create an anonymous call-in line for families and school employees to report concerns.

    • Provide documentation that concerns were promptly answered.

  • Provide a full-time nurse in every West Virginia school, and increase the number of social workers in each county school system.

  • Waive the statewide standardized testing requirement for the 2020-2021 school year.

  • Alter the employee evaluations for the 2020-2021 school year.

    • Base them on employees’ actual working conditions. Consult with school staff before implementing the new evaluation system.

  • Think outside the “box” and outside the classroom.

    • Utilize outdoor learning, community centers, gyms, and other meeting spaces where social distancing is possible.

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