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County school board votes 5-0 to make face masks optional

Tuesday night vote takes effect immediately

by Kate Evans

The Morgan County School Board voted unanimously 5-0 at their February 15 evening meeting to revise Morgan County Schools COVID-19 protocols, including making face masks optional on buses and in school buildings for students, staff and visitors effective February 16. Their decision came after The Morgan Messenger went to print on Tuesday afternoon.

Board president Aaron Close brought a replacement for the updated January 31 West Virginia Department of Education COVID-19 protocols to the board for discussion and possible action at the Tuesday night meeting.

The protocols document also say that no full-time or part-time staff would do any contact tracing.  Morgan County Schools will continue identifying and quarantining positive COVID cases in students and staff, Close said.  Only the name and contact information of COVID positive individuals will be provided.

All counties are now required to post their COVID cases weekly on Thursdays through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources portal.  Morgan County Schools is releasing that chart weekly.

Close said he believed the Morgan County School Board is the authority assigned by voters over the schools in Morgan County and that it’s their decision how they manage a safe school environment. The mask rules that have been in effect since the start of the school year were created by the Morgan-Berkeley County Board of Health and had been adopted by the school board.

Board comments, questions

School board member Eric Lyda questioned who would monitor masking for individuals returning to school after five days of being out with COVID.   Those individuals are supposed to mask for an additional five days after their quarantine is over. Close told Lyda that it was up to the individual.  They can stay home for 10 days or come back on Day 6 if wearing a mask.

Lyda said he thought they’d been doing the right thing since the beginning with the mask rules, and he was reluctantly considering Close’s proposed document.  COVID cases are very low now.  Parents are very up on the virus and their responsibility to make the risk assessment themselves.  Lyda said it was a tough decision. They encouraged high risk individuals to continue wearing face masks in school facilities.

If COVID spike occurs

School board vice-president Pete Gordon agreed with Lyda.  Gordon said one advantage to universal masking was that staff didn’t have to conduct contact tracing.  With these revised protocols they wouldn’t have to anyway.

Gordon felt that if COVID starts to spike again or if another variant comes along that Superintendent Kristen Tuttle has the authority to reinstate face masks.  It’s most important to have students back in school, Gordon noted.

Lyda said that he didn’t think this revised document gave the authority to reinstate face masks back to Tuttle, but actually prevents her from doing so.

School board member Laura Smith asked about contact tracing and if there was any way the schools can notify someone if their child was sitting next to someone with COVID and was exposed, even just by sending a note home.  She was told no.

Face mask requirement

Close said that percent positivity for COVID in Morgan County Schools right now is around 1%-1 1/2 %.  At 20%, school officials can close schools.  Masks won’t be required until a school hits 10% COVID positivity or greater.

Close said that they have to have measures in place to mitigate COVID cases. He noted that the outbreak isn’t near what had been projected a couple of months ago.

Schools will continue measures such as cleaning and disinfecting as they do now.  Close said that schools have been assisting with quarantine and that there could be an injunction against them over discontinuing contact tracing.

School board member John Rowland said that COVID numbers are low and we may have to just learn to face it like anything else.  As long as the board was doing what was best for the health, safety and welfare of all students, he thought they were good.  If that changed, they would have to address it.

Lyda said that the Superintendent is charged with the health and safety of students and staff.  He trusts her judgment to take actions if things get out of control.

“I hope we’re moving in the right direction,” Lyda added.

School message

The Morgan County School Board released this message after Tuesday’s meeting about their face masks decision to parents via texts, phone and on their Facebook page:

“Tonight, the Morgan County Board of Education voted 5-0 to make masks optional for students and staff effective on February 16, 2022. An updated guidance document will be released soon. We would like to offer a sincere thank you to our families and staff for their patience and understanding. Your cooperation has been vital to keeping our schools open and our students in school. We look forward to continuing to partner with you as we move ahead.”

The updated Morgan County Schools COVID-19 face coverings, contact tracing and quarantine protocols document adopted by the school board at their meeting can be found on the county school website.

A direct link to the document is found here at:

https://core-docs.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/asset/uploaded_file/1864512/Morgan_County_Schools_Updated_Masks_2.15.22_FINAL.pdf

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