West Virginia Catholic schools won’t force students to take COVID-19 tests

West Virginia Catholic schools won’t force students to take COVID-19 tests

In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York's Long Island. (Credit: John Minchillo/AP.)

The Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston won’t accept Gov. Jim Justice’s offer to allow private and religious schools to reopen in orange counties if students and staff get tested for the new coronavirus.

CHARLESTON, West Virginia — The Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston won’t accept Gov. Jim Justice’s offer to allow private and religious schools to reopen in orange counties if students and staff get tested for the new coronavirus.

Diocese spokesman Tom Bishop gave several reasons for the decision, including an opposition to forcing students and staff to take coronavirus tests, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

Bishop said five schools are not allowed to have in-person instruction because their counties are orange on Justice’s color-coded school reopening map. The schools are Sacred Heart Grade School, Charleston Catholic High and St. Francis of Assisi School in Kanawha County; St. Francis Central Catholic School in Monongalia County; and Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School in Fayette County.

Justice provided the exemption to private and religious schools Wednesday, only if they agree to pre-test students and staff.

Public schools in orange counties are not being offered the same choice.

Justice said the testing would be free for the private and religious schools because of federal funding from the pandemic relief fund but Bishop questioned whether that was accurate.

“Are we sure that’s legal?” Bishop asked.

Public schools also weren’t offered free testing for students and employees.

A news release from Justice said schools must “enter into an agreement with the State of West Virginia regarding testing and safety protocols prior to resuming in-person instruction” in order to qualify for the exemption, besides being a private or religious school.

A governor spokesman did not respond for comment request on whether masks will be required in schools that use the exemption.

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