Pocahontas BOE Rejects Mask Mandates in School – Again
Once again, the issue of establishing mask mandates in the Pocahontas County Schools became a central issue for the Pocahontas County Board of Education. At their August 10th meeting, a large number of parents, and even some teachers, appeared before the board to demand that the board respect a parent’s right to decide whether their child has to wear a mask all day in the classroom or not. The board rejected imposing a proposed mask mandate inside the schools, but still mandated their use while riding on school buses.
Now, at their August 31st meeting, the board heard from two parents, Dane Sizemore and Erika Marks, who presented medical reasons for mandating mask use by all students and staff,
School Nurse Jenny Friel told the board that there are currently ten positive cases of COVID-19 among staff and/or students in the school system spread out among three of the five schools. Five of these are at the high school. She said there are also forty-three students and/or staff currently under Quarantine. She said that while these numbers may look alarming, they really are not, especially since contact tracing by the Department of Health and by her nursing staff shows that each of these positive cases was caused by out-of-school contacts and that no one has yet become infected from contacts inside the schools. She said that Health Department guidance requires that if three cases are identified as having been spread inside a school, there would be a ten-day closure of that school, but that has not happened as yet.
Board Member Sam Gibson made an impassioned case for restoring last year’s mask mandates and made a formal motion to do so, however none of the other board members would second that motion, allowing it to die without a vote.
The board did modify the school reentry plan by including several changes mandated by the state Department of Education (DOE.} These included a clarification that if a vaccinated student or a student wearing a mask is exposed to a person testing positive for COVID, that student does not have to be quarantined from school, but it is recommended, not required that he or she wear a mask for the next ten days while in school. The DOE also required the board to add to their reentry plan that a report must be made to the Department of Education if a school, or a classroom is closed because COVID was spread in it.
Kyle Wayne, attending his first board meeting as the new Student Representative, introduced himself and reported that some of the students at PCHS who were quarantined because they had been in contact with someone who tested positive while neither being vaccinated nor wearing a mask felt it was unfair that they would not be allowed to stay in school if they agreed to wear a mask.
Erin Baldwin asked the board to allow students to fund raise for a charitable organization that helps provide drinking water to people living in Sudan. She said the students can “adopt a clean water well in Sudan.”
Tracy Valach reported that the “Adventure Pocahontas” program is up and running in the schools on every Thursday for the next eight weeks.
In other actions, the board:
- Approved routine financial reports
- Approved a list of School support Organizations for fundraising.
- Approved an agreement with School Days Child Care LLC to provide Pre-K Education this year to up to twenty children.
- Approved a MOU with the North Central WV Community Action Association for the Head Start Program.
- Approved a number of NEOLA policies.
- Approved a recommended list of personnel actions.