UPDATE (8/24/21 3:30 p.m.)

WEBSTER SPRINGS, W.Va. — During the Webster County Board of Education meeting held on Aug. 23, the BOE did not let Senator Robert Karnes (R-Randolph,11) speak due to him being late to sign up. WBOY reached out to Sen. Karnes after the meeting to receive his statement regarding the mask mandate in schools.

Senator Karnes noted that during the meeting several speakers referenced results from various studies, including a July report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the CDC’s report, it shows that there is no significant difference seen in classrooms where masks were mandatory compared to classrooms where masks were optional, Karnes said.

The CDC has also reached the conclusion that the most effective mitigation strategy is dramatic increases in ventilation, according to the July report.

“I think the science is quite strong, masks are ineffective, ventilation is very effective. If we want to follow the science, schools should be opening windows not masking children,” said Sen. Karnes.

Sen. Karnes mentioned his intent was to call attention to the increase of homeschooling in the state due to what he described as misguided COVID measures. He mentioned that homeschooling has seen a 100-200% increase in counties across the state; adding well over 10,000 new homeschooled children.

“What we are seeing is a mass exodus of children from the public school systems as a result of actions taken by local school boards. Boards that are afraid to stand up to the very ideologically driven teachers union. Instead of me drawing them out of schools, boards are forcing them out,” Senator Karnes said. “Every kid they lose costs on average nearly $5,000 in state funding and in some cases additional federal funding. If Webster County loses 100 kids their budget will take a $500,000 hit. That will likely cause the loss of teachers and other school personnel.”

Sen. Karnes believes that it is a very salient point that no parents showed up in support of a mask mandate.

ORIGINAL (8/17/21 5:40 p.m.)

WEBSTER SPRINGS, W.Va. – Webster County Schools are set for students to return to school on Thursday, Aug. 19.

Most Webster County students will be returning to instruction five days a week with a full day instructional model. Superintendent Scott Cochran responded to 12 News’ inquiry about students being mandated to wear face masks upon returning to school. His response stated that they have continued to collaborate with the Webster County Health Department when making decisions regarding school re-entry, and upon their recommendation, along with many other medical field experts, it was determined a safe and healthy return to in-person instruction must include the mitigation strategies, including universal face coverings for students and staff. 

“We are continually navigating a Public Health Crisis; we are charged with the responsibility to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for all students and staff while in attendance in our school. In the navigation of this Public Health Crisis, we feel that it is imperative that we rely on the medical experts and adhere to their advice for the safety and well-being of all involved,” said Scott Cochran, Superintendent of Webster County Schools.  

Cochran also provided 12 News with an open letter that was released on Aug. 10 as an influence for their decision. The open letter was published collaboratively by many of the leading Health Care organizations in the state of West Virginia and urged school districts to incorporate face coverings for the safe return to school for the 2021-2022 school year.

“The decision will be continually monitored in collaboration with the Webster County Health Department on a monthly basis and any changes to the mitigation protocols will be communicated to all staff, students, and their families,” Cochran said. “As many other districts in the state have also determined this to be the safest option for all of our students and staff upon the opening of school.”  

Superintendent Cochran also stated, non-compliance for wearing face masks will be handled on a case-by-case basis, just as other non-compliance issues are handled throughout the school year.

“Students and staff who may have documented medical conditions will be provided additional support if face coverings are not appropriate due to the medical condition,” Cochran said. “Those will also be addressed in a case-by-case basis.”  

Webster County Board of Education officials stated they will continue with the mitigation strategies that they had in place last year, such as hand hygiene, providing social distancing opportunities when possible, cleaning and disinfecting, and working with the Webster County Health Department with contact tracing. 

“Again, due to the increased number of cases and the rise in the delta variant, we are in constant communication with the Webster County Health Department as it relates to the best interest of our students and staff,” Cochran said.  

At the Aug. 23 Board of Education meeting, parents expressed their opinions in regards to the mask mandate. The majority of those parents asked the board to remove the mask mandate and let them decide if they want their children to wear one or not.

“I’m tired of fighting my kids to have them put them on every morning when it does no good whatsoever,” explained parent Amanda Dillon. “It violates every right that my children and I have to decide what we’re going to do, what is best for our family.”

Webster County Schools stated that they have had fewer students enrolled in their virtual instruction platform and those that have chosen the homeschool option as compared to the last school year. Currently, 19 students in Webster County are enrolled in a virtual instruction program, and approximately 89 students are enrolled as homeschool students.