WVa education group seeks virtual learning until year’s end

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s largest teacher organization called on the governor Monday to take public schools online-only through year’s end because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The plea comes after the state recorded a high of 4,404 confirmed virus cases over the past week from Nov. 9 through Sunday, a 63% increase from the previous week. The state health department reported 632 new cases and three more deaths on Monday, bringing West Virginia’s total confirmed cases to more than 30,000 and the death toll to at least 562.

Gov. Jim Justice has barred in-person instruction from Thanksgiving through Dec. 3 with the aim of stemming possible outbreaks in schools amid holiday traveling. But the West Virginia Education Association said in a statement that officials should go further and end classroom instruction for the rest of the year.

“Should it be considered? Without question,” Justice said at a news conference Monday. But the Republican governor and health officials said they were weighing questions such as the effectiveness of virtual learning and how to fill a child care gap.

“We know that there are very significant ramifications from the loss of the structure and the opportunity for many of our students to have education delivered in an in-person environment,” said Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s coronavirus response.

Seventeen counties reported enough virus spread this weekend to suspend in-person instruction at schools in those counties this week. Two other counties, Nicholas and Wetzel, voluntarily chose to move to fully remote learning as well.

Meanwhile, confirmed coronavirus cases at state-owned McDowell County Corrections has grown more than sixfold since Thursday, with 254 active cases among inmates. There are 28 active staff cases. Justice said the facility is on lockdown.

“When this gets into a population, it goes everywhere,” Justice said.

Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.