Putnam County BOE implements new mask policy guidelines, contact tracing no longer taking place

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 6:46 PM EDT
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PUTNAM COUNTY. (WSAZ) - Parents in Putnam County are left confused after a special school board meeting was held Friday morning about the mask policy approved at a meeting Monday.

The meeting Friday was to provide clarification on the universal mask policy. However, board members voted and the guidance was passed 4 to 1 without being read aloud for parents in attendance.

”They’re acting like we’re being demanding but however we vote for you. You are the ones making decisions for our children. I mean we’re not being demanding, we’re just wanting answers,” said parent Tiffany Lemasters.

The district’s universal mask policy states that face coverings will remain optional unless 25% of students in a high school test positive, and 15% for middle and elementary schools.

We found, according to COVID-19 case tracking on the district’s website, at this time no schools in the county are even close to meeting that threshold - meaning no masks are required.

According to the West Virginia Department of Education’s guidance, students who are wearing masks under a universal mask policy do not have to quarantine if identified as a close contact.

However, according to Putnam County’s policy, even without masks contact tracing will no longer take place and seating charts will not be kept.

Some parents WSAZ spoke with say they feel the district is creating loopholes.

“I don’t understand how they are basing doing away with contact tracing and quarantining kids who are exposed to COVID positive kids on the fact that they have a universal mask policy. They don’t have a universal mask policy,” said parent Elizabeth Hill.

We asked Superintendent John Hudson for clarification about contact tracing and quarantines, but he would not answer.

“In the document that we will be providing it should provide clarification for anyone who does have a question and so that should be provided in the release,” said Hudson.

We reached out in an email to WVDE, asking if this mask policy is in line with their guidelines, the responded:

“Issues of mask-wearing and quarantining should be directed to public health officials as these are public health issues. This information has been provided to us by DHHR for use in the guidance documents.”

We reached out to the DHHR by email asking if Putnam County Schools policy met the WVDE guidelines. They responded Friday evening:

“Gov. Jim Justice officially lifted West Virginia’s Statewide Indoor Face Covering Requirement for all residents, regardless of vaccination status, on June 20, 2021. Face coverings must still be worn where required by federal law. Additionally, private businesses, school systems, local counties and municipalities can still require individuals to wear a face covering.”

WSAZ also reached out to the Governor’s office to find out who is responsible for making sure school district mask policies are in line with state guidance. We are still waiting to hear back.

While we continue to try to receive answers, parents say they are left without information an worried for their children’s health and education.

“Does that mean that quarantine is going away or does that mean that now that there’s no seating charts that DHHR only has, the only thing they can do is now quarantine the whole class,” said Lemasters.

The full guidance the district released is below:

  • It is the Board’s Opinion that, in view of the Board’s Universal Masking Policy, contact tracing is unnecessary as per DHHR policy outlined in the WVDE School Recovery and Guidance Document updated September 3, 2021. In addition, the WVDE does not list Putnam County Schools as a county where masks are optional. Students and staff not wearing a mask at the point of exposure to a positive COVID-19 person, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, are potentially exposed to PCHD contact tracing and possible quarantining.
  • Quarantine shall be in accordance with DHHR written directions/state code. The Putnam County Health Department has the quarantine authority as quarantining is a codified jurisdiction of the Putnam County Health Department. Therefore, Putnam County Schools does not have the authority to quarantine students.
  • Employees of the Putnam County Board of Education are not required to perform duties outside regular school hours or required to work overtime to assist the Putnam County Health Department with contact tracing. Putnam County School Employees will not perform contact tracing on behalf of Putnam County Health Department while COVID Universal Mask Mandate policy is in effect.
  • Establish a COVID positive reporting system/procedure/mailbox/app that administrators utilize to submit positive students names.
  • Utilize one single Putnam County Schools employee that will serve as the reporting agent to the Putnam County Health Department contact. This employee shall be the Superintendent or his designee and may change as situations warrant. This is the only employee authorized to communicate student infection/health information to the Putnam County Health Department concerning COVID positive infections.
  • Notifications of COVID positives should be made to the Putnam County Health Department via email/written communication at least by 4:00 pm each school day.
  • It is the board’s strong preference that, in order to avoid misunderstanding and help ensure compliance, all PCHD recommendations and orders be in written format to pivot from one status to the other.
  • The policy passed by the Putnam County Board of Education on September does not preclude anyone from wearing a proper health mask as long as the Putnam County Health Department continues to recommend universal mask wearing.
  • As long as individual schools are below 15% threshold for elementary and middle schools and 25% threshold for high schools, no seating charts shall be required or maintained. Once above the threshold the superintendent could direct seating charts at his direction.

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