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Barring a last-minute intervention by a court, West Virginia’s children enrolled in public schools will be heading back to the classroom this week.

The state Board of Education voted unanimously last week to not allow counties to offer remote learning. That’s when schools don’t offer any in-person instruction. Instead, they teach only online or through paper handouts.

Students in PreK-8 will need to be in class at least two days per week. High school students will also need to be in class at least two days a week unless the state’s color-coded map shows their county to be in the red designation.

The state board’s vote does allow parents who enrolled their children in online-only options, such as the statewide virtual option or local county online-only programs, to keep their students in those programs.

“Remote learning is not teaching,” board President Miller Hall said. “Remote learning is, ‘I’m going to give you a packet and you look at it and do the questions and turn it in.’ But here’s the problem: It’s not equity, because some of them don’t have a computer.”

It’s not easy for someone on the outside looking in to estimate how long it will take to determine how effective remote learning has been, but two weeks should be a starting point. By then all children will have been in school long enough for their teachers to evaluate their progress this year against established benchmarks.

It will be important to remember that different groups of students have different learning styles and different learning abilities. It’s not just the average grade or an aggregate number — say, 30% having trouble in one or more core classes. It’s the distribution of the numbers. Children in talented and gifted programs may very well have had different responses to those in the middle of the student population or those in special needs programs.

It could take time to make these judgments, but time might not be in great supply considering we are at about the halfway point of the school year.

Another thing to ask is whether the school shutdowns accomplished anything in preventing the spread of COVID-19, either among school employees or the public at large. There should be data available from private schools or states where schools have not been closed as they have been in West Virginia. We need to know if the shutdown was necessary or effective.

All this could become moot, for a while at least, if the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia proceeds with its announced plan to file for an injunction to overturn the state school board’s action.

Even if AFT-WV is successful, it will be only a delaying tactic, as schools cannot remain closed forever. Student performance during the shutdown will still need to be evaluated, no matter when schools open.

The sooner schoolchildren can get back in the classroom safely, the better.

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