Putnam County implements school-by-school mask mandate

Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 9:18 PM EDT
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WINFIELD, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The Putnam County School Board on Monday night approved a mask mandate that will be implemented on a school-by-school basis.

The measure that passed says that if 25% of students in grades 9-12 test positive for COVID, and 15% of students in K-8 are positive at a particular school, a mask mandate will be implemented for at least five days.

Board members said they wanted a higher percentage for high school due to the availability of vaccines and the fact that their population is higher than those at middle or elementary schools.

Currently, officials have not set a date for when this policy will go into effect.

School Board President Rob Cunningham said when this new measure goes into effect, Putnam County Schools will fall under the “Contact Tracing for Schools with Universal Mask Policy,” in the West Virginia Department of Education’s School Recovery and Guidance.

West Virginia Department of Education's School Recovery and Guidance.
West Virginia Department of Education's School Recovery and Guidance.(WSAZ)

However, due to the time the meeting was finished, WSAZ has not yet confirmed this with the WVDE or Putnam County Health Department. WSAZ will reach out for confirmation in the morning.

Board member Christian Wells made the motion, and the board approved it unanimously.

Before this motion was made, board member Calvin Damron made a motion to implement a 28-day mask mandate and then re-evaluate after the 28 days have passed. His motion did not get a ‘second’ from any other board member, meaning, it did not have the opportunity to be voted on. Damron said he made the motion because he believes it’s the best way to keep healthy children in school and cut down dramatically on the quarantine numbers.

“As I stated in my motion, the (West Virginia) Department of Education and the WVDHHR have given us a pathway forward without the high number of quarantines, through the implementation of mask mandates.  The Putnam County Health Department recommended implementing universal masking in our schools. The board members have been put in a position to make decisions on this incredibly divisive issue even though none of us are doctors or epidemiologists.  I do not profess to know all the positives nor negatives of children wearing masks, but I do know that we cannot continue to take as many as 1,219 students out of our school system and quarantine them,” said Damron in a statement to WSAZ.

For several weeks, the board has gone back and forth on masking and has heard parents on both sides of the issue. Monday night was no different.

Parents both for and against a mask mandate gathered at the Putnam County Board of Education...
Parents both for and against a mask mandate gathered at the Putnam County Board of Education meeting Monday night.(Tori Yorgey)

“Please require masks for my four-year-old’s unvaccinated aide, please require masks for everyone in schools for now just until it gets a little better, just for now,” said one parent during the meeting.

“My wife and I held our daughter back from Pre-K last year over COVID, not because we were afraid she would get sick but more so we didn’t want to expose her to a world controlled by fear, yet here we are,” said one dad about his daughter in Putnam County Schools.

Officials have not set a date for when the new measure will be in effect.

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