UPDATE: Randolph County votes to end distance learning, full-time virtual option still available, AFT says


UPDATE(Nov. 24, 2020 4:16 p.m.)

ELKINS, W.Va. – On Thursday, officials with the American Federation of Teachers issued a statement to 12 News clarifying the situation surrounding Randolph County’s distance learning model.

According to AFT officials, a full-time virtual option will still be available to parents who are not comfortable with sending their children to in-person classes.

The changes the board of education made to its current model will result in teachers being responsible for teaching either in-person or distance learning, but not both, AFT officials said.

The number of in-person instructional days has not been determined at this time; it is expected that the decision will be made at a later date and in consideration of local health metrics and the needs of the community and students, according to the AFT statement.

Calls and emails to board of education officials have so far gone unreturned.

ORIGINAL STORY(Nov. 23, 2020 5:35 p.m.)

ELKINS, W.Va. – At its most recent meeting, the Randolph County Board of Education voted 3-2 to end its current “distance learning model.”

The vote came following the recommendation of Randolph County School Superintendent Debbie Schmidlen.

Board members voted to end distance learning at the end of the first semester, January 22, 2021.

12 News has heard from several parents, concerned about the change, who are now considering home-schooling their children.

We’ve reached out to members of the board, as well as the superintendent and have so far not heard back from them.

During his Monday COVID-19 briefing, we asked West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice for his reaction to the decision.

Gov. Justice said that he was not aware of Randolph County’s action, but that he would look into it with the state Department of Education.

“I don’t want to say the virtual learning is a wipeout, but I would tell you that the virtual learning is a challenge and our kids have surely shown that they get a heck of a lot more out of it if they’re in school. Our education people have tried diligently on the virtual learning, but they and myself will tell you that kids need to be in school.”

On the converse, Justice also said: “We have got to educate our kids some way somehow, referencing the fact that 24 of the state’s 55 counties are currently “orange” or “red” on the state’s color-coded map or have voluntarily gone full remote. We have got to deal with the safety of our teachers, the safety of our kids, the safety of our service personnel and on the other hand, what happens to our kids from a standpoint of their learning? What happens to all of our special needs kids? What happens to all those kids who need support and help in every way? I’m telling you, this is a very, very, very difficult balancing act and all we’re trying to do is just get ourselves through this and get to a vaccine.”

You can hear the governor’s full comments in the player below:

The discussion over virtual and distance learning and the effects on students and teachers is ongoing. The American Federation of Teachers filed grievances against Randolph and other counties, demanding that teachers teach either in-person or virtual, but not both.

You can see more about those grievances here.

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