When Governor Jim Justice closed schools on March 16, 2020, life changed for most West Virginians. COVID-19 was advancing across the nation, and it was only a matter of time before cases of the disease would be confirmed in the state. All sectors and institutions had to react and regroup as the 267,000-plus children in our state moved to a remote learning model, and families would instantly become homeschoolers working with teachers to keep students engaged.
Now months later, the focus is now on school re-entry, recovery and the re-establishment of processes, protocols and procedures that will allow students to resume a more consistent learning structure. COVID-19 is a historic and seminal event that will forever change much of what we do. The pandemic has interrupted more than instruction, and we will see its profound impact on our children as we return to school. There is no denying that school will now look very different, but my focus remains steadily on three core areas that are critical to the whole child: social-emotional well-being, equity and access to technology and broadband, and overall academic achievement.
The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent national and state emergencies have served as a wake-up call regarding equity and access to remote learning, educational technology and social emotional supports. The most glaring chasm in West Virginia is the digital divide that separates the technological haves and have-nots. Because of this, equity and access is our number one focus in planning for the upcoming year.
The Outbreak to Recovery Advisory Council was created to vet, review and inform recovery and re-entry efforts that will provide a framework for counties making local-level decisions. This website will house the work of the Council, with consideration of guidance and best practices from public health officials. It will change and evolve until the threat of COVID-19 is eliminated.
I join members of the West Virginia Board Education in thanking Governor Jim Justice, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch and West Virginia Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp for their guidance, along with the partners and stakeholders who participated in this work and continue to provide insight and assistance.