Putnam County parents pack school board meeting for mask mandate debate

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 12:14 AM EDT
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PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - It was a full house Tuesday night at the Putnam County Board of Education meeting. Several parents and health care providers spoke out either for or against a mask mandate in the county.

“I’ve been an informal educator for the past 18 years and I have seen how masks have been detrimental to the learning, education and relationship building among students and teachers and among students and students,” said one woman during the meeting. “These masks are not doing anything to protect their health, they’re just ruining education, they’re just kind of severing bonds between a teacher and a student.”

“There is no discussion needed, there’s only obligation on our part. It’s really that simple,” said another woman during the meeting. “You are elected officials and take an oath to protect our children, and you are failing to do so. If you do not mandate masks, enforce social distancing and bring back the use of the sneeze guards. You are not only acting negligent but down right unethical.”

On Monday, WSAZ reported the county Health Officer, Dr. Michael Robie re-submitted a letter of recommendation for masks to be worn on everyone at minimum inside the buildings and on buses. Robie told WSAZ this came after a significant increase in cases throughout the county recently:

Dr. Michael Robie provided WSAZ with the letter he re-submitted to Putnam County Board of...
Dr. Michael Robie provided WSAZ with the letter he re-submitted to Putnam County Board of Education members Monday night.(WSAZ)

Board members said because Robie used the word “recommendation” rather than “mandate” in his request, they are not going to mandate masks in school. The board said they are following their Roadmap to Recovery guide which the board said allows local health officials to implement mitigation strategies, such as mask wearing. Board members said they are not medical experts and if the county medical leaders mandate masks, they will follow suit.

“This is why we had to have the meeting before to have clarification, are we going to have mask mandates or are we going to have recommendations,” said Board Member Bruce Knell. “There’s a great difference in the terminology used, and that was why we had the meeting. It wasn’t to choose sides over one or the other, that’s not our position. We are not health care professionals, and this is something we take very seriously. But this is something that has been put on the local boards, and I think is horrible because we’re not qualified to make those decisions.”

Board Member Calvin Damron requested that the next meeting agenda have a mask mandate item on it for discussion and a potential vote and also wanted clarification on who can mandate what in the county.

“It was a recommendation to follow CDC guidelines, not a mandate. Some communication came through the weekend where we were requested to re-evaluate our position. And, with that being said, I would like to ask that it would be placed on the next agenda for us to consider (a mask mandate) -- well first of all, get a clarification from the health department to get whether or not there is truly a mandate, if there’s going to be mandate handed down. But it is something I would like to have placed on the agenda for our next board meeting,” said Board Member Calvin Damron.

Dr. Robie told WSAZ, as health officer, he does not have the authority to mandate masks in schools or in the county. He said the Board of Health makes the choice on whether or not to have a mask mandate. On Monday night, Chairwoman for the Board Cindy Farley told WSAZ the Board of Health was not going to implement a mask mandate in Putnam County Schools. Instead, they would leave that up to the Board of Education.

The board did not take action on masks during the meeting as they did not have it on the agenda. Therefore, masks continue to be only a recommendation in the county.

Superintendent John Hudson said Damron’s request to discuss masks at the next board meeting will be taken into consideration.

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