Vaccine and Mask Mandates Considered by Pocahontas BOE
At the September 20th Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting, held at PCHS, once again, conflicting opinions about a school mask mandate were aired during the “Delegations” portion of the meeting by staff and citizen attendees at the meeting as well as by numerous people signed onto the meeting via Zoom Meeting. During this discussion it was pointed out that Pocahontas is one of the few West Virginia counties without a school mask mandate.
New this time, vaccine mandates for staff and students were also discussed by people expressing opinions of both sides of that issue.
Following all this public comment about these issues, Superintendent Terrence Beam told the board that Green Bank Elementary/Middle School would be going on remote learning effective immediately because six staff members at that school were out because they were under COVID quarantine because of contact with someone who tested positive.
Nathaniel Sizemore made an impassioned case for mask and vaccine mandates for the schools, which he sent to us. You can read his remarks in full using this link –9-20-21 BOE Meeting -Sizemore Remarks
The board reviewed and considered making changes to their School Re-entry Plan. During that discussion, board member Sam Gibson strongly urged the board to pass a mask mandate and to also consider a vaccine mandate for staff members who did not have a religious objection to receiving the vaccine. Board member Morgan McComb said enacting a staff vaccine mandate would probably result in costly lawsuits which the board would probably lose. School Nurse Jenny Friel told the board that most of the COVID attendance problems in the schools are due to quarantined staff and students rather then actual active COVID cases, adding that in the entire school system there are only six actual active cases among both staff and students.
Gibson’s motion to establish a mask mandate failed because it could not receive a second from any of the other board members, but he said he would make this motion at all future meetings until the crisis is over. Sue Hollandsworth made a motion to establish a temporary trial mask mandate to last for three weeks only, after which the BOE could examine to see if it was effective in reducing cases. Morgan McComb said the Delta strain of COVID was peaking and will probably be declining and over such a three-week trial, could inaccurately make a mask mandate appear to have been effective. That motion was defeated also. In the end, neither mask or vaccine mandates were adopted. The board did make a minor change to the re-entry plan’s quarantine rules, requiring quarantining for unvaccinated students and staff who were or were not wearing masks when they had contact of less than six-feet social of distancing for fifteen minutes or more with a person who tested positive. This would apply to situations such as on school buses, at lunch or in a self-contained classroom. The board also agreed to provide the public with advance notice if any consideration of vaccine mandates would be again be brought up at a future board meeting.
Also at the meeting, the board:
- Approved routine financial reports
- Approved their 2020-2921 unaudited preliminary financial statement.
- Approved monetary allocations to each school’s Faculty Senate
- Approved a list of Parent and community Volunteers for this school year.
- Approved two new policies and three revised policies, all of which were required to be changed because of changes to State Code.
- Passed recommended personnel actions
- And finally, they conducted a short Matters of the Board discussion.
The policies and approved personnel actions can be found at this link to the BOE’s official meeting agenda –9-20-21 Official BOE Agenda PDF