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Gov. sets Sept. 1 as decision deadline

Still hopes to get kids across state back in classrooms

It was a primer on how pandemics work in West Virginia.

This particular one, anyway.

And it was delivered in one frustrated, run-on rush by Gov. Jim Justice, during his COVID-19 briefing Monday afternoon.

The governor’s sentence, and the aforementioned frustration that went with it, gathered momentum like a coal truck letting it roll, on a downward slope of Interstate 79.

“If we didn’t have the outbreaks that are going on right now from the standpoint of people running off to Myrtle Beach and bringing it back,” Justice began …

“And a staff member going into a nursing home and affecting everybody in the nursing home,” Justice continued …

“If we didn’t have that going on right now, we’d be looking at our numbers and we’d all be celebrating, heading back to school,” Justice concluded.

Don’t count on it 

As in heading back to school — definitively — Sept. 8.

That is still Justice’s target for the first  day of classes for West Virginia’s 55 school districts, but as he told reporters, the only thing one can truly count on concerning COVID-19 — is that one can’t truly count on anything, concerning COVID-19.

West Virginia went into Monday morning with 7,754 confirmed cases statewide, including 928 in Monongalia County.

As of that morning, 141 people in the state had died from complications of the highly contagious virus, which usually affects the lungs.

That’s low, compared to West Virginia’s neighbors, the governor said.

But the numbers are also relative to the state’s population.

And Justice’s frustration over wanting youngsters back in school isn’t just about academics, he said.

 Back-to-school buffers 

More often than not in the Mountain State, he said, school is a place where a kid from a troubled home can go feel safe — and to be fed.

There’s breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria.

Mainly, there’s a teacher, making an impressionable youngster feel valued.

And, the governor said, there are those other aspects and benchmarks of well-being that aren’t going to be ascertained through a Wi-Fi connection, provided the child has access to the technology to begin with.

Educators and other professionals in the building are trained to look for signs of abuse and other hurtful forms of neglect, Justice said.

There’s all that, plus the normalcy of a kid seeing the faces of his friends in person, even if those faces will be partially obscured with masks and other coverings this time around — if there gets to be another this time around.

Justice made the call to shutter schools  March 13, as the coronavirus was looming just beyond West Virginia’s borders.

If he feels he has to do the same for the new school year, that call will come Sept. 1, he said in the briefing.

“We can’t take it up to Sept. 8,” he said.

Nor can he, or the state’s medical professionals, disregard the numbers.

Guided by science 

The professionals at Monongalia County Schools, and the elected officials on the district’s Board of Education, agree.

There’s the unpredictability of people going on vacation, then making asymptomatic visits to grandma at the nursing facility.

In many households across the Mountain State, Grandma might be the main caretaker of the kid in school — and COVID-19 is lethally opportunistic among the elderly.

Justice said he’ll never completely know if the coronavirus is smiling from behind its mask.

That’s why back-to-school will have a completely different expression this year: In-school learning, one day, remote instruction, the next.

That includes Monongalia County.

Donna Talerico, the district’s assistant superintendent of schools, said Mon will be “guided and informed by the science,” as it makes its decisions with the input of parents.

A survey asking for thoughts on four back-to-school options, including a blend of classroom and remote instruction, closed at 11 p.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, the BOE meets at 6 p.m. today, in the district’s central offices on South High Street.

The meeting is closed to the public due to the pandemic, but it will be live-streamed via Zoom. Visit to access the meeting.

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