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Long Break

Legislators must make decisions on school year

Schools in West Virginia will not reopen until at least April 20, Gov. Jim Justice said last week. We give the governor credit for optimism, but we doubt that date is realistic, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It appears school officials and personnel have been doing a stellar job in taking care of students, both body and mind, while they have been out of the classroom. Teachers have been providing homework packets and have stood ready to help students and parents with them. Throughout the state, school employees have been finding ways to ensure children who normally rely on school breakfasts and lunches are supplied with food.

But the enforced break means students are not getting the in-class, one-on-one help from teachers that can be critical in the learning process. It is entirely possible that will not change until the 2020-21 school year begins.

That raises a number of difficulties, some important and others merely because rules are being broken. For example, high school seniors will not be able to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s required for them to graduate.

Ohio legislators have already taken care of that in their state. A bill they approved last week provides that seniors who had been on track to graduate this year will get their diplomas. In addition, the measure includes other school-related provisions, including one that waives standardized testing and, in effect, cancels the state’s school report card process for the year.

Holding schools accountable, as the report card system does, is important most of the time. Given the situation now, there is no way to measure school effectiveness during the last several weeks of the year.

At some point, West Virginia legislators and the state Board of Education will have to take similar action. Ohio’s plan sounds like a good model. If the board can use policy changes to accomplish that end, it should do so.

Justice will have to call lawmakers back into session sometime during the next few weeks, of course. Too much about COVID-19 demands their attention. Though it may be premature to call a special session now, the governor and legislators should stand ready for one.

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