Highland School Board September Meeting

Highland County students will return to school Monday, September 20th, with a mitigation plan in place that requires all students, K-12, staff and visitors to the school wear masks.

This decision was made at the Highland School Board’s September meeting Monday evening, which had been rescheduled from last week due to a Board member being quarantined with COVID. This meeting was the fourth since the beginning of August where the mitigation plan was discussed. Previously, on August 12th, the Board had voted to reject an emergency health order issued by the Governor which mandated the wearing of masks, instead putting a system in place where parents could opt out for their children via a signed form. Following an August 24th meeting with Dr. Laura Kornegay of the Virginia Department of Health and a closed session where the Board met with legal counsel, they met again on August 31st, where they voted to delay the start of school until October 1st.

Monday’s decision was not only a reversal for the mask mandate, but also for the sentiment of the attendees. Whereas at the earlier meetings, speakers were adamantly opposed to the masks, of the 14 speakers who addressed the Board in person and virtually Monday, the overwhelming majority urged the Board to adopt the administration’s proposed calendar which called for schools to open next week with the mitigation plan including masks in place. They cited the need for children to be in school safely, the Board’s responsibility to follow legally issued directives, and their obligation to set aside personal, political and religious considerations in making their decision. Speakers opposed reiterated their doubt of the effectiveness of masks, the legality of the directive, and loss of parental choice. The question was posed if the administration or Board had been made aware of any consequences communicated by the state of Virginia if the mandate was not followed – Superintendent Dr. Thomas Schott had no comment and Board chair Kenny Hodges replied he did not know of any.

Before voting, Board member Sherry Sullenberger commented that, during the summer, all plans for the beginning of school were made with the impression that masks were not going to be required. That changed with the Governor’s actions on August 12th, and the situation had further modified with the developing dangers of the COVID Delta variant. She acknowledged that the decision to postpone opening was hers, and that had been informed during the meeting on August 24th with Dr. Kornegay, who had placed the peak of the surge around that time of year. She also noted that exemptions exist within the plan for health and religious reasons. Ms. Sullenberger then made the motion to adopt the mitigation plan, and the calendar which started school on the 20th. The motion was seconded by member Joe Neil, and passed unanimously.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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