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Getting Kids Back in Class

It makes sense that there was some resistance to Gov. Jim Justice’s plan last week to reopen all West Virginia pre-K, elementary and middle schools for in-person learning by Jan. 19. People want to know that students, teachers, administrators and staff will be safe under such a plan.

But Justice and state Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch are right to think most Mountain State kids will be better off in the classroom, and an upsetting number of them will be considerably safer, too.

“The virtual learning models do not work for most students without consistent, live engagement from a teacher from the student’s own school,” Justice said.

Those of you trying to help students in your home perform well in a remote learning situation know only a few of them are learning and thriving under the arrangement. The effort has produced another tool for students and schools, and broadens the options for students who DO learn more effectively in that setting, but it is not ideal.

More concerning, however, is the sharp reduction in the number of referrals to Child Protective Services during the pandemic — between 50 and 54 percent fewer reports. We know teachers and other school staff are quite literally a lifeline for some students that are not safe in their own homes. Without being able to see those kids in person, teachers have nothing to do for them but worry.

“Bad things are happening to kids … and we’re not even getting it reported now,” Justice said. “We’ve got a bunch of kids out there really suffering.”

Counties and individual schools will have to make sure they are implementing Justice’s plan safely and using common sense. But the bottom line is the vast majority of West Virginia kids need to be in classrooms, face-to-face with teachers who can help them learn and keep them safe.

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