Schools reopened across the Mountain State this Tuesday, but despite additional measures taken by many schools to remain safe, nine counties were prohibited from conducting in-person classes this week.
The West Virginia School Re-entry Metrics and Protocol Program, a color-coded map used to track coronavirus cases and determine eligibility for districts to reopen schools, has come under fire as Governor Justice announced that its restrictions would apply to both traditional public and private schools.
This is particularly outrageous since private schools are not governed by the West Virginia Board of Education and do not take any state funding. Private schools should be exempted from these restrictions and allowed to offer in-person instruction if the school administrators and families who attend there determine it is safe enough to do so.
Alex McLaughlin, a parent of two school aged children, filed a petition to prohibit the enforcement of portions of the School Re-entry Protocol. He argues that West Virginia courts need to take immediate action to avoid “[i]rreparable harm to our education system.”Concerns over school reopening plans could be avoided all together, however, if West Virginia would expand education choice opportunities across the state.
Although district schools are subject to the Board of Education’s regulations, families shouldn’t have to be trapped by them. Families should be given the opportunity to vote with their feet and leave for an alternative schooling option that meets their students’ needs and their family’s comfort level with education during the pandemic.
In fact, many families have already chosen to leave traditional schools behind, in response to how districts are handling the pandemic, and have instead opted to homeschool. 15% of families who were not already homeschooling before the pandemic reported that they were “very likely” to do so full time this school year.
Unfortunately, not all families can afford to homeschool. One of the best things legislators can do for families in response to the coronavirus is to expand educational choice in West Virginia.
Many families want their children to be in school in-person full time. Many are unable to remain at home or provide a caregiver for their child who is learning remotely online.
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) would allow families to continue to educate their children in the manner they deem best regardless of how the public district school system decides to handle the coronavirus pandemic and school re-entry plans.
ESAs would also allow families the flexibility to find alternative options for their children without running the risks of their children falling behind or going into debt in an attempt to provide an education.
2020 has been a roller-coaster of a year and has shown that traditional district schools across the nation are under-prepared for emergencies and unable to innovate and adapt quickly as needed. Even when they are able, executive orders and a lack of school choice prevent many of them from fulfilling their missions to a provide tuition-free, high-quality education.
This generation of students is already greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We shouldn’t let it determine their future as well by impeding their education.
It may only be September, but given how time seems to be passing in unusual ways during this pandemic it’ll be election season and then legislative session before we know it. It’s absolutely vital that the legislators of West Virginia not repeat the mistakes of 2019 by blocking much needed school choice legislation from passing. Education choice provides families hope for a brighter future and opens the door to more opportunities for students whose parents couldn’t afford to buy a house in a different district.
As we look forward to the end of this crazy year, let’s learn our lesson from the coronavirus pandemic and give families school choice now!
Amanda Kieffer is the Communications Associate for the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.