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County boards of education in West Virginia have been reluctant to take the necessary steps to reopen schools fully, but now they have no choice.

Children in prekindergarten through eighth grade will be heading back to the classroom five days a week. For many of them, it will be the first time they’ve had a full week of in-school instruction in almost a year.

That is far too long.

As reported by HD Media’s Ryan Quinn, last week the West Virginia Board of Education ordered all counties to return to offering students in grades preK-8 in-person instruction five days a week. In-school instruction must start no later than Wednesday, March 3, the board said. Counties may keep their high schools on a “blended” in-person and online schedule.

“We believe, at this point, all of our data says it is safe to be in the classroom when people are wearing masks and staying distanced, and we will continue to monitor this very closely,” Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar told the board.

For most counties, this will be a minor adjustment to the schedule, as many had already returned for four-day-a-week classes. Now for all students in preK-8, going back to school will be the norm.

It’s about time. West Virginia’s schoolchildren have not had a normal classroom experience since schools closed last March because of the pandemic.

The vaccine is being administered. If this is not the time to bring children — the population least vulnerable to the virus — back to school, then when? Many children have lost nearly a year of instruction, and schools will be playing catch-up for a while. The alternative to opening schools now is admitting that this is a lost year educationally for many of the state’s children who need person-to-person contact to learn. For them, a computer screen is no substitute for being in the same room with a teacher.

Some county school boards have been reluctant to go back to a five-day schedule. Cabell County has been one of them. But the state school board is insulated from many of the political pressures that could intimidate county boards from taking the necessary steps to get children back into the classroom.

As reported by The Herald-Dispatch’s Luke Creasey, Cabell County Superintendent Ryan Saxe said last week the district is prepared for the transition back to full-time learning and that while social distancing cannot be maintained in all areas of the school buildings, safety precautions such as masks, desk shields and frequent cleaning will help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus where appropriate distancing isn’t possible.

The state school board acted when local boards were reluctant to do so. Now children can be back in the classroom, which is where they should have been weeks ago.

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