Union files FOIA regarding call for kids to return to classroom
Gov. Jim Justice got some involved homework Monday afternoon from the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.
The union has filed a Freedom of Information request related to his handling of COVID-19 in state schools.
It made the announcement right before 4 p.m., some three hours after Justice defended his call to send elementary students and middle-schoolers back to their classrooms — no matter the infection rate in their counties.
Justice said last week he wants them in their seats by Jan. 19.
“Major, major decisions had to be made,” he said in his Monday briefing.
“We have to have eyes on these kids,” he said. “We don’t have a way to help these kids.”
The coronavirus, the governor said, has already exacted a terrible academic toll on those students, which he says are far more impressionable and far more in need on the one-on-one instruction that doesn’t always translate through a computer monitor.
One-third of all state students, Justice said, are failing in their fundamental core classes, anyway.
And that’s because they, in turn, are being failed by inadequacies of remote and virtual learning, he further charged.
The students targeted for the return, he said, have shown medically not to be profound carriers of the coronavirus.
It’s COVID-19, though, that is making profound ripples across the Mountain State. Most of its 55 counties are in the red.
And from the time of Justice’s final briefing of 2020 last Wednesday, to his first of 2021 on Monday, another 78 residents succumbed of coronavirus complications.
Sending kids back to school under those conditions, he said, isn’t easy.
It is necessary, though, he contended.
Call that the core of the request by AFT-WV, which takes in teachers and other workers.
It seeks a copy of a letter signed by superintendents in all 55 counties asking that the aforementioned students receive in-building instruction, for all the aforementioned reasons.
All documentation related to all outbreaks in school over the course of the pandemic is also requested — along with all grading data backing up the claim of a one-third failure rate among West Virginia students.
AFT-WV President Fred Albert said his union wasn’t consulted by the governor’s office or the state Department of Education while the decision to return to class was formulated.
None of the state’s 55 school districts were either, he said.
It was a decision that was both unilateral and inconsistent, Albert said, in that teachers and others working with students have yet to be vaccinated — though Justice has promised the beginnings of a schedule today.
Justice earlier suspended winter sports through February, a move Albert also questioned.
“If it is safe to return to five-day-a-week learning, then why did the governor delay winter sports?”
The union president also called for the governor to tap into CARES Act monies to bankroll an accelerated inoculation program — “For the health and safety of those in the school community,” he said.
In the meantime, AFT-WV was set to conduct an emergency meeting via Zoom on Monday evening with union leadership to “strategize options” related to the above, he said.
Joint sessions with the West Virginia Education Association and West Virginia School Service Association will also be held this week for the same, Albert said.