150 Quarantined In Ohio County Schools
WHEELING — Ohio County Schools reports 28 active COVID cases in the school district as of Friday, and that 150 students and teachers are quarantined as numbers continue to increase.
Mask wearing by students and staff is optional but recommended in the school district following a decision by the Ohio County Board of Education. Meanwhile, many students in the district are under age 12 and not yet approved for vaccination.
The Ohio County Health Department has set in place quarantining guidelines for when a COVID case is reported. In short, the policy states if a masked student who isn’t vaccinated is exposed to COVID by another unvaccinated student who isn’t wearing a mask, both the masked and unmasked students have to be quarantined.
This has some parents concerned about how to protect their younger unvaccinated students while keeping them in the classroom.
Among those questioning the board of education’s decision is former member Sarah Koegler. She said she has been hearing from parents at Triadelphia Middle School who are masking their children, but fearful they could be at risk or could miss school because another student near them isn’t wearing a mask.
“We are seeing whole groups of children being quarantined because one is not wearing a mask,” Koegler said. “We have one very easy option to keep children in school, and the school board chose not to use it.
“Now these children are home for a week, and there is nothing I can do to keep my daughter (in kindergarten), who is masked, from missing school.”
There are presently 150 students and staff quarantined in Ohio County Schools, according to Gabe Wells, coordinator for Ohio County Schools. He said he was not able to break down the number as to the number of adults, and the ages of the students affected.
Quarantined students complete daily lessons using Schoology, and are able to contact their teachers via email, Wells said.
The school district’s website now contains a dashboard detailing how many active confirmed cases there are in each school building in Ohio County Schools. The dashboard can be accessed at boe.ohio.k12.wv.us/page/ocs-covid-dashboard.
The information on Friday indicated there were 28 confirmed COVID cases in the school district, with 22 of them older youths at Wheeling Park High School.
There are also two confirmed cases at Triadelphia Middle School, and one each at Elm Grove, Middle Creek and Woodsdale elementary schools. Other schools do not report any COVID cases.
Policy set forth by the Ohio County Health Department calls for the quarantining of students only when they are within 3 feet of an infected student who wasn’t vaccinated nor wearing a mask.
There is no quarantine if both students were wearing a mask, or if both are fully vaccinated and symptom-free.
But if one of the students hasn’t been vaccinated or isn’t wearing a mask, they may be quarantined for up to 15 days. They may return to school on day 11 without being tested for COVID if they are symptom-free.
The same student may return after seven days if they are symptom-free and tested negative for COVID on day five.
Those returning after 7 or 10 days must wear a mask through day 14, according to the policy.
When board of education members convened Aug. 23 to consider a mask mandate, eight members of the public signed up to speak to the board on the issue. Six of them spoke against requiring students and staff to wear masks.
Board president David Croft and members Molly Aderholt, Pete Chacalos and Grace Norton all voted to give parents a choice on whether their child should wear a mask, while member Christine Carder voted against the motion.
“If I were a parent, I wouldn’t want a lay person making that decision for me,” said Chacalos, a retired teacher and athletic trainer at WPHS.
But he said he is hearing that peer pressure is playing a role and many students are not wanting to wear their mask.
“There are 28 confirmed cases, and most are at the high school,” Chacalos said. “What I am interested in knowing is were these kids wearing masks? Were they not wearing masks? What about the people around them? That’s what I would like to know.
“If the numbers keep going up, I think the whole thing will be revisited, especially by the governor. If the numbers keep going up, we will have to look at options.”
Norton, a COVID survivor, suggested parents who want all children to wear masks in schools should come to the next meeting and voice their opinion.
“I was willing to let people make a choice,” Norton said. “If that is not working we should revisit and maybe vote the other way. My thought was if they want the choice, give them one. But if that is not working, maybe we have to rethink that. The important thing is keeping them in school.
“Parents should come to the school board meetings and tell us their concerns. We’re not mind readers. Please come and talk to us about what you’re experiencing so we can address it. When we make policy, often we are guessing on what problems we think we would have. Sometimes we pass things and get different problems.”
Neither Croft nor Aderholt immediately responded to requests for comment on Friday.
The board next meets at 6 p.m. on Sept. 13 at Steenrod Elementary School.