Salango Calls for Local Control of School Opening Decisions
CHARLESTON — Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, the Democratic candidate for governor in the Nov. 3 general election, is calling for local control to return to counties on re-opening decisions.
Salango criticized Gov. Jim Justice in a virtual press conference Tuesday morning prior to Justice’s briefing unveiling changes to the County Alert System color-coded map.
“Leaders are supposed to inspire confidence. Leaders are supposed to provide structure. Leaders are supposed to provide some degree of predictability, so we don’t have chaos,” Salango said. “Jim Justice has demonstrated time and time again that he lacks the experience and the skills necessary to lead our state through this crisis.”
Justice announced a new gold color between the yellow and orange, which will include counties with between 10 and 14.9 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people or counties with a positive rate of 5 percent or less. Salango accused Justice of playing politics with the school re-entry metrics to appease parents, but instead sowed chaos with the multiple changes in color codes and metric criteria.
“It’s time we take politics out of our COVID-19 response and in particular it’s time to take politics out of our school re-entry plans and our ability to participate in sports,” Salango said. “Parents, students, and educators need predictability. They need consistency. They need structure. That’s why I’m calling on Jim Justice to return local control to local elected officials.”
Salango said he wouldn’t throw out the color-coded map system, but he believes that school opening decisions need to be made at the local county level between county school board officials and the local health departments instead of wholesale closing all schools in a county.
“Kanawha County is 911 square miles. Who knows that area better than the local elected leaders,” Salango asked. “Jim Justice didn’t even know where Nitro was. He doesn’t know that if we have an outbreak at a church in downtown Charleston, how that’s going to affect school in Sissonville or school at Riverside or school in Elkview. Local officials do.”
According to DHHR, Kanawha County has 748 active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, nearly 25 percent of the state’s 3,160 active cases. Salango said that was no surprise given that Kanawha County remains the largest county by population. At least two private schools in Kanawha County are open despite an executive order requiring private schools to follow the same re-entry requirements as public schools. Justice was also greeted at the Capitol yesterday by angry parents who want their children to be able to play football despite their county color codes.
“We have parents protesting at the Capitol,” Salango said. “We have private schools going rogue and not paying attention to his executive orders. That’s all a direct result of his failed leadership. We need someone who is not going to change the rules at every virtual press conference.”