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Jefferson County Schools holds to mask mandate

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Sep 3, 2021

CHARLES TOWN — Despite a special meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Health and a resulting resolution clarifying that those members did not, as a body, recommend the schools system implement as a mask mandate, the Board of Education has indicated they will continue with the mandate through the Sept. 27 reevaluation date originally set.

The special JCBOH meeting was held Saturday via Zoom, allowing members of the public to voice their opinions on whether masks should or should not be required. While hearing opinions on both sides of the coin, the Board of Health members chose to vote on a resolution indicating their official opinion is that the decision should be left to parents.

This decision contradicted the Jefferson County Board of Education’s reference to choosing the mandate on the recommendation of Dr. Terrance Reidy, health officer for the JCBOH. Reidy acknowledged that during the Saturday JCBOH meeting he had not recommended a mandate specifically, but he did indicate he recommended masks be worn.

At Saturday’s meeting, Reidy was asked directly whether he recommended a mandate.

“I did not say it was the opinion of the Board of Health,” Reidy said, explaining the JCBOH made an independent decision. “I did not recommend that they require masks.”

Following additional discussion, the JCBOH members voted on a resolution clarifying they did not recommend a mask mandate be issued by the JCBOE. The resolution further stated the JCBOH has concerns that masks can cause harm and that the primary responsibility for a child’s health resides with the parent of the child.

Such clarification came from the final paragraph of the one-page resolution.

“Be it resolved that the Jefferson County Board of Education acted unilaterally and completely on its own in its decision to implement a mask mandate in Jefferson County Schools and that the Jefferson County Board of Health does not recommend a mask mandate for children attending Jefferson County Schools,” the resolution said. “The Jefferson County Board of Health recommends that the decision as to whether or not a child is to wear a mask in school rests solely with the parent of said child.”

Addressing the issue on Monday, the JCBOE said the mask mandate will remain in effect.

“The Jefferson County Board of Education did not base their decision to require masks in buildings and on buses on their view of the science or politics,” said Hans Fogle, public information officer for the school system.

Instead, Fogle said, the decision was made purely on the safety and health of students, staff, families and community in Jefferson County.

“Right now, the Jefferson County Health Department has a set of quarantine rules from the state that they must follow, and those rules force masked children out of school for 10 days when they are in the presence of sick unmasked children,” Fogle said in a press release. “This takes away the choice of the masked child to attend school through no fault of their own. This is not parent choice. This is allowing the choices of some parents to affect the education of other parents’ children.”

The Jefferson County School system faced, for the first time, the need to quarantine an entire classroom at one of the schools. In a press release, Fogle said that for the first time this year, potential exposure to COVID-19 has forced quarantine of an entire classroom, although the release did not indicate which school was effected.

The call to quarantine an entire class came, due to contact tracing, after Reidy determined the criteria for an outbreak was met.

Fogle, when commenting on the resolution from the JCBOH indicating that parental choice should determine mask-wearing, said if the time comes where safety guidelines change to allow parental decisions to effect just one child, the JCBOE would address the change.

“Should the quarantine rules change to allow parent decisions to only affect their own children, the Jefferson County Board of Education will quickly respond to that meaningful change,” he said.