Education, Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

Gov. Justice orders schools closed for rest of school year; distance learning to continue

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice announced during his Tuesday coronavirus press briefing that kids won’t be returning to their school buildings for the rest of the school year.

They will need to continue their distance learning, he said. The state will need to keep feeding them at their homes. And county school board will need to figure out means to hold some form of graduation ceremonies for the seniors this summer.

Justice said he and his team hoped to have the kids come back, even for a short time, to see their friends and teachers. “I know how much the kids would appreciate it.” But it wouldn’t be right to cram them back in close quarters while social distancing is still necessary.

But they’ll be back at the schools next fall, he said. “This will be a memory in our rear-view mirror.”

He urged the students: “Run for the finish line. Accomplish all you can accomplish this year.”

State schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said all kids will continue being supported by the system and will keep getting fed. The state school board has a task force to help the county boards tackle graduation plans. They want to make it special and seamless for the seniors.

Burch said the College Board will make the AP test process seamless and all students in career/tech programs will finish the programs. All virtual school for high school students will be free this summer. And the free SAT test will be offered in the fall for those who missed it this spring.

In answer to a question, Burch added that they understand not all students have adequate internet access for home learning and there is some inequity. But teachers know their students and are doing what’s best. Some are filming themselves teach lessons for kids without internet. Four year-end grading, the Department of Education has a guidance document posted and he trusts all 55 county superintendents to make the right decisions.

Justice also spoke of funding for higher education and said “buckets” of federal money will be coming. Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Sarah Tucker told him that as soon it arrives it will go to students.

Tuesday afternoon’s coronavirus numbers from the Department of Health and Human Resources were 929 positive cases out of 25,435 results – a 3.65% rate – with 26 deaths.

Justice pointed to some other DHHR figures that show West Virginia has tested a higher percentage of its population than all its border states and higher than the U.S. Average. When the nursing home tests are completed, West Virginia’ lead will be even more pronounced, he said.

Adjutant General James Hoyer said the National Guard has completed testing residents and staff at the two VA nursing homes and is awaiting results.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said that 26 nursing homes have started testing – in response to test all residents and staff at every home – and seven have completed the tests; one has received results.

DHHR is now offering a smart phone app, he said, to help those suffering from substance abuse disorder stay connected to their counselors and providers. The app and other resources can be found at

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh talked briefly about moving to Phase 2 and monitoring the rate of new cases. To help distinguish community spread from nursing home hot spots, he said, DHHR will separate the figures for the two groups. Apart from the Eastern Panhandle hot spots tied to the metro D.C. area, he said, most hot spots seem to be associated with nursing homes.

Justice also spent some time on Phase 2, and the balancing act of the best timing of restarting the state. “If this country stays battened down another month, another two months … we could very well slip into a depression,” he said, with all those dire consequences.

He again offered assurance he’s prepared to deal with it. “I didn’t roll off the pumpkin truck just yesterday.”

There’s no way to eliminate all the risk, he said again, but West Virginia had just 26 deaths compared to a total of 2,889 for the five border states. “We’ve done our job protecting us. You’ve done your job protecting us. … We’ve got to move as quickly as we can to get us back to work. … But we’ve got to be smart.”

And, he said, “No matter how tough it is, we’re just going to be tougher.”

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