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Debate heats up on bill to remove mask mandates in WV schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Jim Justice says he doesn’t believe in mandating masks in schools, but says those decisions should be left up to the local school districts.

Gov. Jim Justice

That was the governor’s response when asked during his coronavirus media briefing Friday if he would sign a new bill moving through the House of Delegates that would prevent school districts from requiring students and staff to wear masks.

“We’re going to continue to watch it as it goes through and we’ll see what the final outcome comes out to be,” Justice said. “I’m not for mandating masks in school.”

H.B. 4071, the “Parent and Student Health Rights Act,” would end mask requirements and restrict COVID-19 testing requirements and quarantines in schools.

Joanne McConnell, president of the Barbour County Board of Education, spoke out against the bill during a Friday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

“If this bill passes, you have removed local control. It ties our hands,” she said.

The bill would apply to grades K-12.

Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Del. Jordan Maynor (R-Raleigh), believe it gives parents the freedom to determine whether their child wears a face covering to school.

McConnell said other families, who favor masks, aren’t being considered.

“My question to these sponsors of the bill is ‘why?'” McConnell asked. “Why would you not want our superintendents and local boards of education do everything possible to contain this highly transmissible, infectious virus?”

The bill passed the House Education Committee earlier this week and now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.

Moore Capito

House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito (R-Kanawha) did not indicate his position on the bill Friday, but did tell MetroNews “Talkline” host Hoppy Kercheval he supports allowing parents to make their own choices.

“Ultimately, we’re going to have to give our parents some choices with how they educate their children. Part of that is going to be whether they ultimately wear masks or not,” Capito said.

McConnell said she’s heard both sides of the issue among parents. Barbour County Schools currently has a mask mandate. Some have said they want to keep those requirements in place.

“Perhaps they have an immunocompromised person in their household. They feel a level of protection by wearing the masks and by being vaccinated. They don’t want the fear of dragging an infectious virus into their home and possibly compromising the health of someone they live with,” McConnell said.

Mask mandates have helped students and staff reach a level of normalcy, McConnell said.

“We are now in school, we are participating in all of our extracurricular activities, all sports and band activities have gone on. Do I think it has helped? Yes,” she said.

Capito said it all comes down to a cost benefit analysis during committee meetings.

“We have to figure out what is the benefit that we’re getting from continued masking?” he said. “Obviously, I believe in science and I believe our doctors that are telling us about the efficacy of masks and what sorts of masks, but also is there a cost?”

The 2022 Regular Legislative Session continues through Mar. 12.

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