Justice, health officials ‘disappointed’ in Charleston school’s decision to open in-person

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Health officials and Gov. Jim Justice are not happy in the decision by the Bible Center School in Charleston to begin in-person education on Monday as Kanawha County remains orange on the COVID-19 county alert map.

Under Justice’s orders with the map, any county in the orange or red is not allowed to hold in-person learning. Kanawha County Schools began the school year on September 8 online.

“We are very disappointed that in-person is going on there because today (Monday) we had the highest number of active cases that we have had during the COVID-19 pandemic,” John Law, Chief of Staff at Kanawha-Charleston Health Department (KCHD) told MetroNews on Monday.

KCHD reported 697 active cases of the virus as of Sunday night with 15 probable cases and 69 cases in less than 24 hours. There have been 2,031 total cases in the county.

Kanawha County’s number on the county alert map is 22.14 cases per 100,000 people on a rolling 7-day average as of Monday. More than 24.9 cases puts a county in the red and less than 10 puts one in the yellow which would permit school activities in-person.

“It is not safe at this point to have in-person school,” Law said.

Law added that Dr. Sherri Young, the executive director of KCHD expressed her stance to the school over the weekend. He said officials from Bible Center School had a conversation with Young late on Friday afternoon.

Sometime during the weekend, Young sent an email suggesting it may not be for the best health of their students, faculty, support workers, and the families of all of those people to hold in-person learning, Law said.

“They (Bible Center School) are taking it on themselves to just ignore the executive order that the governor has put in place and go back to school,” Justice said at his press briefing Monday.

Governor Justice

“I really just believe they are doing what I do not think is right. Evidently, they do so we are trying to work it out. We are sure not going to run down there and make a scene, we don’t need to be doing that.”

The Bible Center School is also offering online education choices. The school had a statement on its website about the decision that said, “While the decision to offer in-person education for our students and parents differs from Kanawha County public schools’ decision otherwise, BCS believes that its approach strikes a balance between the needs of today and beyond. This is not a decision that BCS takes lightly.

The statement further said, “Education of our future leaders is one of the most important priorities of society. If the current generation of leaders do not invest in this priority, the next generation will not possess the necessary skills to address the unprecedented challenges of tomorrow.”

The school said it is taking steps to mitigate the risk that in-person education may present and it will continue to update its safety protocols as the pandemic changes.

“Historically, West Virginia has deferred to the judgment of students, teachers, and their respective families in instances where private schools choose to deviate from decisions made by public schools. BCS respectfully requests that our great State do the same in this instance,” the statement said.

VIEW: The Bible Center School’s complete statement on opening

Justice said on Monday that changes will be considered about the map that determines school status, including adding a color between yellow and orange.

“But this we know exposes us and absolutely if we branch out on our own and we start doing things on our own, we are going to cause a lot of heartache to a lot of different people,” Justice said.