Varying COVID-19 guidelines highlight return to school across the state

RIPLEY, W.Va. –The majority of county school systems head back to the classrooms this week but not all are doing it the same way when it comes to COVID-19 guidelines and masks.

With decisions left up to local school and health leaders, county policies are ranging from everyone in the building wearing a mask, to only those vaccinated, to a split between grade levels.

Blaine Hess

In Fayette County, which beings Monday, masks will be required for students and staff while in the building during the first two weeks of school. On August 27, the county school system announced that mask mandates will be determined by the weekly state DHHR County Alert System. This decision is only for Fayette County and not every county such as last year’s mandates by the state Department of Education.

If the map shows Fayette County is colored yellow or green, the mask mandate will be lifted for the entire county. If the county is the other three colors signifying high transmission rates of COVID-19, gold, orange, or red, the mask mandate will be back on.

Jackson County Schools begin on Wednesday and is only recommending masks in schools. Upshur County begins the same day as Jackson County and is requiring masks for the first two weeks and then will reevaluate.

“We certainly recommend people wear a facemask. We are going to make sure our faculty members and parents are well aware of those recommendations. We will have masks on hands for anyone that wishes to wear a mask,” Blaine Hess, Jackson County Schools Superintendent recently told WMOV-Radio in Ravenswood.

Hess said all guidelines are subject to change.

“We will keep monitoring that carefully as the school year gets underway,” he said.

Eddie Campbell

In Monongalia County, school staff will be required to wear masks when they report on Thursday. When students arrive for the first day of school on August 24, they will also be required to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.

The decision was made last week by the school board and Monongalia County Superintendent Eddie Campbell said it came after consultation with the local health department.

“Their recommendation was in order for us to open up safely, in order for us to reopen at 100 percent full capacity, we needed to require all of our employees and all of our students to put a mask on,” Campbell said on a recent appearance on MetroNews ‘Talkline.’

In the Eastern Panhandle, Berkeley County starts classes on August 23 and will require masks to begin the school year. On Thursday, Berkeley County Schools announced they will follow the guidance of the Berkeley/Morgan County Health Department’s Health Officer Dr. Kevin McLaughlin and send out weekly notices regarding when new case rates are high enough to warrant mask use on school properties.

Under McLaughlin’s plan, whenever new cases are above 62 in Berkeley County and above ten in Morgan County by the Friday of prior week –anyone indoors at a school will be required to wear a mask. This applies to anyone in a building on school property who is not alone in a room.

McLaughlin recently told the Panhandle News Network that the goal is to have kids in the classroom five days a week. He cited personal experience to having children learning.

“Masking is not the most popular thing in the world, I understand that. I also know over the past 16 months, I have lived it as a parent to kids that have gone through high school during this pandemic, that many kids will be left behind if we go back to virtual school,” McLaughlin said.

Morgan County Schools has not made a decision yet on guidelines but told the Panhandle News Network, “This mandate will be on the Aug. 17 Board agenda for discussion and possible decision.”

Morgan County Schools begin class on August 23.

The majority of school systems in the state begin school in the next seven days.

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