Essential reporting in volatile times.

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CHARLESTON — West Virginia public and private schools won’t reopen until Sept. 8, Gov. Jim Justice announced last week.

A state Department of Education spokeswoman said that will be the start date for students, and “counties can bring teachers back prior to that date.”

Many school workers across the nation have expressed health concerns about returning. Kanawha County, the state’s most populous school system, had scheduled an Aug. 10 start date for students long before the pandemic struck. Cabell County was slated to welcome students back Aug. 13.

Aside from the mandated delay until Sept. 8, county school systems will still be given wide latitude on exactly how they want to reopen, state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said Wednesday.

This could include a mix of in-person and online classes, but Burch said “most counties have told me they want to come back five days a week.”

Burch also announced more school reopening guidance from the state Department of Education would be posted online Wednesday at wvde.us/covid19.

Justice also noted the state’s spiking number of COVID-19 cases Wednesday.

“It’s preposterous to think we could be going back to school in two, three weeks with the information we have here,” he said. “Our cases (are) exploding to the upside. Absolutely, if we were to rush this and go back to school in two or three weeks, in my opinion, it’s the wrong decision because we don’t know, we just don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to buy some time.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has written that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

Schools are critical not just for education, but for socializing and providing free health care, therapy, meals and child care for working parents, and for detecting abused, neglected and suicidal children. President Donald Trump has also pushed for schools to reopen.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.