BUCKHANNON — During the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, board members discussed and debated the decision to send students back to school—requiring masks.
The decision was brought forth due to Upshur’s spike in COVID-19 cases in the past week, putting the county “in the red” on West Virginia’s infection map.
Safety and Preparedness Director Dr. Jeff Harvey and Dr. Joseph Reed, with the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, attended the meeting to provide guidance to the board and answer any public questions.
Dr. Harvey reviewed the WV Department of Education’s guidance for the upcoming school year, which included the expected precautions of sanitation, social distancing, contact tracing, monitoring large gatherings, etc., including changes that have come about since the release of the COVID-19 vaccine. As vaccination efforts continue, Dr. Reed informed the board that, this weekend, 22 of the 36 new positive cases were immunized individuals, adding the obstacle of “breakthrough cases” with the new Delta variant. Because of this, and because vaccinations have not been fully approved to all age groups, Dr. Reed strongly recommended “masking up” for yourself and others.
Board member Katie Loudin expressed her concern and communication with members of the community. She suggested masking for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, and continuously monitoring the state and county’s infection rate to make further decisions. The board considered several options: not requiring masks, requiring masks until Upshur is out of the “red zone,” or requiring masks until a certain date, while evaluating cases.
Britney Westfall, a parent of an Upshur County Schools student, came forth to express her concerns during public comments. “I really feel it should be up to us. Give parents the option to mask our children. We know what the risks are,” Westfall explained.
Wilson Harvey asked Dr. Reed about breakthrough cases and their relation to the timing of the individual’s vaccination. He added that the board should consider investing in masks that provide more protection to students, such as the N95 masks.
After the discussion between board members, department members, and the public, Loudin strongly recommended requiring masks for the beginning of the school year, while Upshur County is still facing a spike in cases. She suggested reevaluating the infection rate during their next board meeting on August 24 to which they will decide whether to continue requiring masks, determined by the “color” of Upshur County on the infection map.
The decision to mask students until August 24 was approved and passed 4-0, with one board member, Tammy Samples, abstaining from the vote.
The 2021-2022 school year begins on Wednesday, August 19.