Putnam County school mask policy criticized by WVEA


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PUTNAM COUNTY, West Virginia (WSAZ) – The West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) has spoken out against Putnam County schools after the education council adopted what it calls a universal mask policy Friday morning.

WVEA Chairman Dale Lee says he believes the policy is a violation of West Virginia Reporter Disease Rule 64 CSR7-3, which is cited in the West Virginia Department of Education Tips on pages 9-10.

“They are trying to make their own rules in Putnam County, and we will do everything we can to keep our educators and students there and the whole family safe,” Lee said.

The Putnam County Schools Universal Mask Policy leaves masks optional until 25% of students in a high school are positive and 15% for middle and elementary schools. Contact tracing will no longer take place and seating charts will not be kept.

“These are unreasonable numbers. We know, everyone knows that the best safety measures are vaccines and masks and social distancing and you won’t get there with 25% or up to 15% until you need masks. They’re really bending the mask rules, ”Lee said.

Lee says he believes the lack of contact tracing will create an even larger outbreak of COVID-19.

“You’re going to have sick students in school, which is the worst thing that can happen,” Lee said.

The WSAZ contacted Putnam County School Board chairman Rob Cunningham, and he declined an interview after hearing our questions, but sent us a statement:

“Mr. Lee certainly has his own program for his organization. Just as our plan does not match his program, his plan does not match the one we have to educate our students. Our program in Putnam Co schools is to provide a quality education to all of our students We are an educational institution, not a medical institution The DHHR, Putnam County Health Department and the Governor each have the legal authority to require masks. To date, they haven’t.The current orders from the Chief Medical Officer of Putnam Co are to recommend masks, so we definitely recommend masks.

Cunningham would not answer our questions about the lack of contact tracing while masks are still optional, or if he believes it circumvents state guidelines. He continued his statement:

“Our responsibility is to educate our children and that is exactly what we are going to do. This new policy will maximize educational and social opportunities, as well as improve the emotional well-being of our students. Quarantining healthy students and attempting to educate from a distance has proven to be detrimental to our education system. Therefore, in Putnam (County), we will (will) take the lead in devoting all our efforts and all the time of our employees to maximizing the education experience for our students.

Lee agreed in person that learning is the goal, but only in a safe way.

“We all want our students to be in front of us, it’s everyone’s number one goal is to have the students in front of us, but that being said, putting the safety measures in place to ensure that will happen more often than not, “said Lee.

Lee says WVEA will contact DHHR, WVDE, and the governor’s office about what they believe are rule violations. He said if these entities do not require Putnam County schools to comply, the WVEA will pursue other means to keep students safe.

WSAZ contacted Putnam County Board of Health chairperson Cindy Farley for a statement, but Farley never responded.

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