FAIRMONT, W.Va. – The Marion County Board of Education held a nearly two hour emergency meeting Friday morning to decide how to respond to a West Virginia State Board of Education directive that all schools offer some level of in-person learning.
Earlier this week, Marion County board members voted to remain in a blended model, with schools going remote when the county is “orange” and “red” on the state’s map, which does not comply with the state’s order.
Representatives from the Marion County Education Association, AFT-Marion, and the West Virginia Education Association all spoke, with all asking the board to continue with its current plan and most suggesting that they do not believe the state has the authority to penalize counties.
WVEA President Dale Lee also spoke and said that he is offended that state board that doesn’t allow more than eight people into its meetings, due to COVID concerns, yet wants classrooms to be full on students and staff.
Marion County Superintendent Randy Farley recommended that the county follow the state’s directive, based on low local percentages of school-involved and community-involved COVID infections.
Board member Thomas Dragich made a motion to follow Farley’s recommendation, which was seconded by Richard Pellegrin.
State Superintendent Clayton Burch also joined the meeting, along with the state’s legal counsel, who reiterated the options the state board can take against a county like Marion.
Following Thursday’s announcement that Marion County had one of the highest rates of COVID in the state and that beds and staff are being added to Fairmont Medical Center due to capacity issues at other local hospitals, Board President Donna Costello asked Burch why now was the right time to send students and staff back into the classroom. Burch answered that community transmission does not translate into school transmission.
Board member James Saunders said in his 33 years serving on the Marion County Board of Education that he has never felt more strong-armed by the state board than he does now.
Costello said that she does not like being strong-armed by the state or being told what to do, but she felt the board had to accept the state’s order.
Marion County Health Department Administrator Lloyd White also recommended returning to a blended model.
The board then voted unanimously for Farley’s recommendation to move to a blended learning model.
Along with Marion County, Gilmer and Taylor counties were the other two counties that were not following the state mandate. On Thursday night, Taylor County’s board voted to return to a two-day blended model on January 25. Gilmer County’s board voted to send students back to schools starting Friday.