There’s a big difference between a “mandate” and a “suggestion,” Sam Brunett said Tuesday,
Even, he said, if it’s your governor and state school superintendent who are presenting the latter.
Brunett, a Morgantown High art teacher and Monongalia County president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, was discussing the call led by Gov. Jim Justice — to get an academically vulnerable population back in their classroom seats for good two weeks from now.
Justice said in December that elementary students and middle-schoolers should return to school for five-day-a-week instruction by Jan. 19, despite coronavirus infection rates in their counties.
The students are losing too much ground, he and state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said.
Younger students aren’t as prone to the virus, they said, although many dispute such claims.
There are also too many inadequacies in the remote-learning delivery system for effective education, both admitted.
However, the art teacher and union official said, the governor drew some pretty prominent brushstrokes across the canvas with his remarks.
That is, county school districts don’t have to go along — if they don’t want to.
Brunett: “The governor himself said this isn’t a mandate. County districts still have the final say. Marion County proved that.”
He was referring to action taken by the neighboring county Monday night.
Or, inaction, as it were.
Administrators of the Marion school district and its Board of Education members voted to keep the county’s current hybrid-learning model the same.
That’s because everyone is vulnerable to COVID-19, they said.
The pandemic, they said, is simply surging too strong.
So is the unwieldiness of contact tracing and the quarantines that follow, as evidenced by the October and November experienced by Mon County Schools.
Right now, there’s no apparent let-up, with another uptick of post-Christmas and New Year cases predicted to follow.
As of Tuesday morning, the state Department of Health and Human Resources reported 1,142 deaths from complications of the coronavirus.
That goes with the 1,276 new COVID diagnoses made the 24 hours before.
Of the Mountain State’s 55 counties, just seven — Calhoun, Clay, Lewis, McDowell, Randolph, Roane and Tucker — were showing orange on the DHHR’s County Alert Map.
The 48 others, including Mon, were in the red, the worst hue for infection rates.
In the meantime, Brunett said, there’s the Freedom of Information request filed by his union’s state headquarters seeking data related to test and homework grades — along with a letter purported to be signed by all 55 superintendents of schools in West Virginia requesting a return to school for the younger students.
There’s that, he said, plus uncertainty over when teachers will actually receive a vaccine.
Then add the general waiting and wondering over just how respective districts will go once Jan. 19 gets here, he said.
A Zoom meeting Monday night with union leadership was primarily an informational session, Brunett said.
AFT-WV has circulated a survey among its members, as has its counterpart union, the West Virginia Education Association.
Mon Board of Education meets Tuesday in its first session of 2021.
Brunett said he hopes for an audience with Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. and board members before the gavel comes down.
“Marion County was encouraging,” he said.
“It’s going to come down to county by county, and I hope decisions are made that keep everybody safe.”