Board of Education peels off mask mandate for after-school events only

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Board member Steve Chancey expresses his opposition to removing the requirement for masks at after school events at the Dec. 14 meeting.

RIPLEY  Tension filled the room as Board of Education President Jim Frazier made a motion at Tuesday's meeting to remove the mask policy for indoor after-school events effective Wednesday, Dec. 15. 

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Frazier cited that without having monitors enforcing the mask policy at after-school events, hardly anyone is following the mandate. 

"We're mandating something that we can't enforce," Frazier said. 

Board member Steve Chancey pushed back. He recognized that in many after-school events he's attended, like basketball games, that a sea of maskless people fill the gym. 

But Chancey argued that the schools should do everything in their power to keep people safe. With this new policy, Chancey said, the board isn't helping its constituents. 

"I feel it's my responsibility to keep the kids as safe as we can," Chancey said. "That's really the only thing that I can do to keep them safe is to mandate it."

The board didn't issue a mask mandate for its schools until Sept. 7. Since then, employees have been suspended for not following or enforcing the mask mandate. 

Colleen Worley, a fifth-grade teacher at Gilmore Elementary School, was punished in October with six days of unpaid suspension for not following the mask mandate. 

Vice President of the board, Daniel Barnette, expressed concern over how schools would enforce the mask mandate outside of regular school hours.

"I think we're putting our principals in tough situations where they are probably responsible for enforcing the masks," Barnette said. "Are we going to suspend the principals because he or she is not enforcing the masks at a basketball game?" 

Chancey then read aloud Jackson County's Health Department's recommendation for the board. 

"At this time, we are encouraging the Board of Education to leave the mask mandate in place with the understanding we can collectively reevaluate at the end of January," Chancey read. 

If the mandate is removed after school, Chancey said people will be more likely to rebel against the mandate during school hours. He said the new rule would be hypocritical of the department's recommendation. 

Board member Bea Isner stepped in to explain that the only reason the board enacted the mask mandate in September was to bring down the quarantine numbers to help with in-person instruction. 

"By keeping the mask mandate in place during the regular school day, we're keeping kids in the classroom," Isner said. 

In the end, members Frazier, Isner and Ben Mize voted for; Chancey voted against and Barnette abstained. 

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— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.