Schools all over the state are making their final preparations ahead of the scheduled September 8 reopening.
In a Coronavirus briefing held this past Friday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch reaffirmed the state’s readiness.
Each county was required to submit their plan for the academic year by August 14, and it was mandated that every West Virginia student be given the option of remote-learning. While state education and health officials feel it is important that families have the flexibility to make the decision that is best for their individual situation, the option of state-wide remote-learning has created significant logistical obstacles. Chief among them is the lack of broadband internet access.
The FCC reports that sufficient infrastructure is in place to allow internet access to slightly over 84% of the state. And according to the West Virginia State Broadband Plan released in December of last year, 64.1% of residents currently have high-speed internet access in their homes.
Statistics released by the United States Census Bureau show that 77% of American homes also have access. This places the state well below the national average, with the more rural parts of the state typically accounting for the majority of homes without. In an effort to help support K-12 and college students statewide, West Virginia is implementing the Kids Connect Initiative to make internet access available to those who need it.
Justice has stated that $6 million in state funds have been committed to the project, which will create 1,006 WiFi hotspots across the state. These include the parking lots of every K-12 public school, and select libraries, police and fire stations to name a few.
Transportation in the form of busing is being arranged, and will be available to those students who are otherwise unable to travel to a WiFi access point. In addition, the state will also provide a laptop computer or tablet to all remote-students to perform their school work. All K-12 and college students will be granted unique login credentials to gain access to the WiFi.
Burch has promised that “one caring adult” will be present and available to assist students. However, no further details have yet been released as to who these individuals will be.
According to the West Virginia Department of Education, just over 20% of students in Greenbrier County have registered for remote-learning. This figure does not include those students currently enrolled in private schools. However, the Governor has also indicated that an additional $1.6 million has been designated for the support of those institutions.
Each individual district will be responsible for managing WiFi access points, and the distribution of computer equipment. Due to the nature of the ongoing pandemic, the situation within each county will remain fluid, and be closely monitored by education and health officials at both the county and state levels.
At a briefing held earlier in the month, Gov. Justice made it clear that the final decision regarding school reopening would be made no later than September 1. And then this past Friday, Justice announced that each of the state’s 55 county school systems confirmed they have enough PPE and cleaning supplies to safely reopen buildings by September 8.
The governor further stated that the “month of September will be a month dedicated to preparedness.”
The next Covid-19 briefing is scheduled for today, Monday, August 31. Justice is still expected to make a separate announcement concerning school reopening on Tuesday, September 1.