By Brad McElhinny, METRONEWS

Gov. Jim Justice is expressing continued worry about whether the spread of coronavirus means West Virginia will be able to safely return to classrooms on Sept. 8 while continuing to aim for starting school on that date.

“I am really concerned,” Justice said this week.

The state school board has a regular board meeting set for 10 a.m. Wednesday. Although the start of school is likely to be discussed, most of the agenda is about other matters.

The public may not attend the school board meeting in person. The Department of Education says “only required staff will be permitted in the meeting room.”

Delegates from the public may submit written comments.

With less than a month until the return to classrooms, focus has turned to how in-classroom instruction would work and whether the rate of community spread assures the health of students, teachers and staff.

The governor on Monday said he’s particularly concerned about a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics showing 97,000 children tested positive for the coronavirus from July 16 to July 30.

So far, most scientists have concluded that children generally experience relatively mild symptoms of the coronavirus. But more questions remain about their capacity to spread the virus to the adults around them.

“We absolutely will do everything in our power to not put our teachers or our kids or our service personnel into any situation we feel is unsafe,” Justice said.

Justice has described a color-coded state map to depict the spread of virus and whether school is safe to reopen. But no one has yet unveiled what factors will result in green, yellow, orange or red.

Justice has described the need to respond quickly to situations in communities.

“We are going to go full steam ahead to be back in school Sept. 8, but I want everyone to know we have got to be able to pivot, we have got to be able to move, and you have got to be able to do the same thing,” Justice said Monday.

When pressed by reporter Kennie Bass of WCHS-TV on a concrete date to make a decision on returning to classrooms, Justice cited at least the beginning of September.

“No later than Sept. 1 from the standpoint of what to do,” Justice concluded.

When Justice was asked by reporter Charles Young of WV News about plans to implement widespread testing in schools, Justice acknowledged the need but questioned whether the state currently has enough capability.

“At this moment, right this second, if you said we want to test every child going into every school as well as all the staff and everybody that’s there — at this moment West Virginia does not have the capability to do that,” Justice said.

But he suggested that as the state moves closer to the Sept. 8 target date, testing capacity could improve.

“Every day that goes by we’ll learn more,” he said. “And as we get closer and closer, we’ll be able to fine-tune exactly what to do.”

The House of Delegates Democratic Women’s Caucus has been having weekly virtual discussions about issues affecting the state. The most recent one, this past Friday, dealt with the return to school.

The delegates and candidates who participated said they’ve heard significant concern from members of their communities.

“There is frustration and confusion,” said Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha, who has children starting pre-K, third grade and 11th grade this year.

“As a parent, this has been one of the most stressful decisions I have had to make in a while. I don’t have the answers. It’s not a one size fits all but a lot of people had a lot of time to put together a comprehensive plan that protects our children; however their plan isn’t so comprehensive.”

During the online discussion, she described a what-if that has caused many parents to wonder — what steps occur if a student starts experiencing coronavirus symptoms during the school day.

“This would have to be a symptomatic child, and we wouldn’t know for sure. There’s no alerting anyone else. Once that kid has a positive covid test, they’ll do the contact tracing,” Estep-Burton said.

“Teachers are gonna be exposed. Kids are gonna be exposed. I don’t know that I have the right answer, but I don’t understand what we’re doing.”

Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe, D-Greenbrier and the parent of a high school student, said back-to-school plans aren’t comprehensive.

“To be honest, I think the concern most of us have as parents is not knowing what remote learning is going to look like, not knowing what’s going to be able to be enforced,” she said on the virtual town hall.

“How are they going to be able to keep kids socially distanced and masks? Also, not knowing what to expect if we have a spike statewide or in the county. It’s very unstable ground that we’re on. It’s very difficult for parents to plan. That’s what I’m hearing the most concern about. It’s just the what-if.”

Estep-Burton and Lavender-Bowe both serve on the House Education Committee and noted that it has not been convened to participate in any guidance.

Lavender-Bowe said the pandemic has highlighted issues such as food insecurity, mental health and other health concerns for children, lack of internet access and classroom size.

“We should’ve fixed these issues already,” she said. “Now they are exacerbated.”