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Sept. 8 Mandate for All W.Va. Schools, Not Just Public

The posted faces of teachers and staff at St. Michael Parish School in Wheeling watch out the windows for students to return.

WHEELING — Gov. Jim Justice’s executive order that public schools not start classes before Sept. 8 applies to all schools — even those considered private or parochial, school officials have learned.

The move comes after state officials previously advised school officials they should start school sooner ahead of an expected second wave of the coronavirus.

Elizabeth Hofreuter, head of school at Wheeling Country Day School, said she has discussed the executive order with both State Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Ohio, and Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble.

“Under a state of emergency, it is an executive order and we can’t go against an executive order,” she said.

Wheeling Country Day School had planned to start Aug. 19, based on prior recommendations from the state.

“The virus is gaining everyday. It’s hard for anybody to say what August is going to look like,” Hofreuter said. “I know Country Day has worked hard to create a plan that follows all the state’s recommendations.

“I wouldn’t open doors to the campus if I didn’t feel confident in my ability to follow the guidelines.”

The school has planned for “a great deal of outdoor learning” when school starts, and have adjusted classroom occupancy loads within indoor classrooms to keep students safe, Hofreuter said. “The most important thing is the physical and mental health of children, and I think the kids do need to be back in school.”

Tim Bishop, spokesman for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, further explained the governor’s emergency declaration issued last spring is still in force, and parochial schools still must abide by it.

“Governor Jim Justice has extended his emergency declaration order closing schools up to September 8, 2020, and our Catholic schools are required to obey his emergency order — even though we are prepared to open in the traditional teachers-and-students-in-the-classroom mode following state and public health guidance,” Bishop said.

“The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Catholic schools remain committed to providing quality Catholic school education while working with local and state health officials to provide the safest possible learning environment for our students, staff and administrators,” he said.

Local Catholic schools had been slated to re-open on Aug. 24.

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