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WVEA files lawsuit against Gov. Justice

Association argues the COVID-19 maps lack validity

by Olivia Murray

The West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) and its members want teachers to teach in person, in the classrooms.

But they want everyone kept safe at the same time.

The teacher organization filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the state’s COVID-19 risk maps used to determine school functions.

The WVEA’s injunction was announced late last month. The lawsuit comes after repeated accusations against Gov. Jim Justice’s office, claiming the state has been tweaking COVID-19 risk maps to reflect lessened severity in several counties and releasing manipulated information to the public.

The reportedly manipulated data suggests that it is safe to open schools in West Virginia, but contradicts COVID-19 maps produced by Harvard Global Health Institute. 

Justice responded to the news of the lawsuit during a press conference earlier this week.

 “Boy, would I have loved for them to have sat in this chair and made the decisions,” said Justice. “… and then let me just sit on the sidelines and cast stones. [It would’ve] been awfully easy to do. But we know 70% of the people in the state of West Virginia wanted to go back to school, and I commend our teachers.”

WVEA President Dale Lee was irked by the changes being made to the COVID-19 risk map, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. 

“The final straw was when they started using the percent of positivity, and we saw different people on social media, including a board member in Putnam County, who [were] manipulating the system by urging people and [the board member] himself going out to get tested over and over just to get the positivity rate below 5%.”

Lee pointed to the rapid regression of Monongalia County from red to green on the COVID-19 map to evidence the manipulation of COVID-19 data in West Virginia. 

“[Justice] is saying this is political. This is not political at all,” said Lee. “This is about the health and safety of our students, our educators and their families.”

As a result of the legal proceedings, the WVEA hopes to see the state  use the Harvard COVID-19 map, or see control of state COVID-19 maps surrendered to an “independent group,” according to Lee.

“Let’s make it clear,” said Lee, “we’re not asking people to teach remotely or shut down the schools, not at all … just use the true metrics to provide safety.

“No one wants to be in front of their students more than our educators do, and more than we want them to be,” Lee said, adding, “… but we want everyone to be there safely.”

Lee believes children attending school are directly, detrimentally affected by the manipulated maps. 

“… You’re disregarding a spread rate, and what you’re seeing is more and more schools have positive cases,” Lee said.

 He used Barbour and Tucker counties as examples. Both counties are color-coded green on the state map, but schools were shut down after COVID-19 exposure and outbreaks. 

“It’s going to spread,” said Lee., “… and we’re putting people at additional risk when we’re not using the proper metrics.”

The WVEA is also requesting for “the panel to fall under the open hearing guidelines,”  Lee said. “We should be able to see and listen to the things they’re discussing to make these decisions when they’re changing the colors in a county.”

“I don’t know how it’s safer. Two weeks ago, you couldn’t go in with 50 cases, and now you’re going in in a county that has 60 cases. How is it safer to do that?” Lee asked.

The WVEA also wants the state to address how social distancing measures and protective guidelines should be effectively implemented in a classroom.

“Under the map system, you have different requirements for wearing masks,” Lee said, “…and then you’re lessening those each time you change the metrics.”

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