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Kanawha school board votes to require masks for elementary schools, choice for grades 6-12

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In front of a boisterous crowd, with the majority of the public in attendance wanting masks to be a choice, the school board for the state’s most populous county voted to require masks for students, faculty and staff this upcoming school year for grades pre K-5 and make it a choice for grades 6-12.

The Kanawha County Board of Education was split with the vote at 3-2 at the special session meeting on Monday with Ric Cavender, Ryan White and Becky Jordon for the resolution and Tracy White and Jim Crawford against the motion.

“I think people are making too big of a deal about masks. Masks work and they don’t interfere with the student’s ability to learn. I think it’s a simple thing to do,” Ryan White told MetroNews following the meeting.

Ryan White

Ryan White brought an amendment in front of the board after Crawford put forth a motion for masks to be a choice in all grade levels. The amended motion passed 3-2 with the same vote.

Ryan White said while speaking on the amendment that the county should follow what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and state coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh are recommending, which is universal indoor masking in schools.

The CDC’s most recent guidance states, “CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

Ryan White said that while he wished the board would have decided to mask up all schools, the decision was a compromise. His amendment was based on the elementary-aged students not having the chance to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Most of the people I got emails from wanted to make sure the elementary kids were protected and had the masks until they could get vaccinated. That was my main goal, to make sure the elementary kids were protected because they have not been vaccinated,” he said.

Tracy White said most of the parents and guardians she heard from leading up to the meeting were not in favor of masks. She even stated it was around “4 to 1” in favor of choice.

Tracy White

“From five messages I would get, four would want no masks or a parents decision. One would say keep the mask mandate,” Tracy White said to MetroNews following the meeting.

White said that’s what her vote against came down to following what she believed the people who voted her onto the board wanted.

“Honestly there is not a win or lose choice. None of us are medical professionals, none of us knows what is coming. There is not a winner or loser here,” she said.

Before the vote, Cavender expressed the want to follow what the CDC has said and told the story of his own bout with COVID-19. Crawford believed the school system should not tell the public what to do and also believed it should have been an “all or nothing” decision with masks or no masks at all grade levels. Jordon, who called into the meeting, said she was concerned about the elementary school students and the virus.

Kanawha County Superintendent Tom Williams gave board members their options which were the one voted on, they could require everyone to wear masks, or just require masks on buses.

In a tweet, the school system said “If additional guidance or mandates are passed down from the state level, the district will adjust its guidance.”

The first day of school in Kanawha County is Monday, Aug. 9.

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