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A Mask Mandate Only Logical Call

On Monday, faced with the possibility that remote learning could again become a reality due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and quarantines in the district, the Ohio County Board of Education decided, by a 4-1 vote, to institute a 30-day mask mandate for all students and staff.

Given the county’s current circumstances, the move was the right one to make. Consider where the county’s public school district stands after 13 days in class:

n There have been 141 reported COVID-19 cases among students, eight among staff.

n On Monday, there were more than 650 students in the district quarantined following contact with another student or staff member who had tested positive for COVID-19. Many of those children will have no symptoms, but will be forced to learn from home due to contact tracing.

n On any given school day, up to 20% of Ohio County Schools’ student population, including those quarantined, is absent from in-person learning — that’s more than 1,000 children not in class!

Given those numbers, the board had little choice with its decision. The trade off of wearing a mask to keep children in school is the right call.

The alternative, given the current rules, likely would have been a return to full-time remote learning.

Preston County, West Virginia made that decision on Monday amid rising COVID numbers, which will end up being detrimental to students there. Magnolia High School is currently closed for about another week due to COVID numbers there.

And as we have learned, any time spent on remote learning platforms this year will only further damage our children from an educational, emotional and social standpoint.

“We agree that kids need to be in their classrooms with their teachers for their educational well-being,” board member Pete Chacalos, a retired teacher, said. “Currently that is not being met, and we need to talk about their mental being, as well.

“If it takes a mask requirement to keep our students in the classroom, that is what this board must do.”

Board of Education President David Croft was the only vote Monday against the mask mandate. He said his goal always has been to balance a family’s right to choose to not wear a mask. However, the changing quarantine rules from the state left the county little choice.

“We are being strong-armed by our state government which says, ‘OK, don’t have a mask policy — but we’re going to send so many of your kids home your education is going to be ineffective.’ That’s what is happening in our county as we speak.”

We give the board credit for attempting to hold this school year mask-free, or at least mask-optional, but all that led to, given the West Virginia Department of Education’s altered quarantine rules, is kids missing class, and Wheeling Park High School having to cancel its home football opener. After last year, school officials need to ensure that this year goes off with as few interruptions as possible.

Board members will once again consider the mask mandate during an October meeting.

“We are in a very imperfect environment right now,” Croft said. “We’ll stay nimble, and watch the numbers. Hopefully, in 30 days, this will be in the rear-view mirror.”

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