Back to school, constitutionally speaking
Can the coronavirus stand up to the state constitution?
As it pertains to the West Virginia Board of Education, that answer appears to be a constitutional no.
But now, a Kanawha County circuit judge will have to give a legal response.
Which will perk lots of academic ears in Monongalia County.
Mon County Schools and Kanawha’s school district were named in that temporary restraining order filed Wednesday in Charleston by the West Virginia Education Association.
The WVEA is trying to keep both districts immune from a back-to-school mandate by Gov. Jim Justice, which calls for in-person learning for all students.
Especially the ones in elementary school and middle school, who will answer roll in their buildings regardless of infection rates in their counties.
The union is imploring all parties to wait until all teachers and school staffers in Mon and Kanawha are inoculated against COVID-19, given infection rates in the two.
Kanawha’s district is also named in a second injunction by the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia seeking the same, filed that same day in that same court.
Monongalia is not mentioned in that filing.
Mon’s BOE had wanted its students to stay home through Feb. 12.
Community spread is already high, board members said. With WVU students now back in Morgantown, it can only get worse, they said.
Their counterparts on the state BOE, however, said no – with the state’s highest court also on the record.
It stems back to a 2017 case involving Nicholas County’s local board, which wanted to launch an extensive rebuilding and consolidation plan in response to a spate of devasting floods the year before.
The state board said no to that one, also.
And when Nicholas County took it all to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, so too was the case tossed by the justices, who cited ultimate authority of the state school board over local school boards.
That statute will probably ride with Wednesday’s most recent challenges, Mon Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. said Thursday, on Mon’s first day back under the blended-learning model.
The superintendent gave the effort a good grade – for the most part.
“I think it went well,” he said, “but our attendance was down.”
During a press briefing, though, Gov. Jim Justice praised the return to school – most districts went back earlier this week – saying students, their parents and their teachers have all been failed by remote learning over the course of the pandemic.
Vaccine distribution, and the administering of shots in arms to state teachers and other employees, hasn’t been an A-plus either, the governor said.
West Virginia’s plan, though, he said, has still gotten the best grade in the country to date – distribution woes, and all.
Stir in the legal action by the two unions, he said. Call that one counterproductive grading on a curve, the governor said.
“They can sue ‘til the cows come home. Our kids need to be back in school.”