POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Board of Education recently met discussing masks and the annual superintendent’s evaluation.
Board members Ashley Cossin, Jared Billings, Meagan Bonecutter, Rhonda Tennant and Dale Shobe were present.
Before diving into the business discussion of the evening, board members recognized the teachers and service personnel of the year for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.
Recipients were Ammie Jordan from, first grade teacher New Haven Elementary and Virginia Hughes, aide from Point Pleasant Primary School for 2020-2021 and Heather Lloyd, math teacher Wahama Junior/Senior High School and Brigitte Rhodes, cook Point Pleasant Intermediate School.
The teachers were honored with a reception prior to the meeting.
During the Oct. 26 meeting, Superintendent Keith Burdette said the discussion of the school year — including masks — would not be on the agenda for the foreseeable future, unless a board member asked to bring it back or there was a substantial change in things.
During the recent meeting, Bonecutter said she asked for it to be kept on the agenda for the meeting.
“I requested to put it back on our agenda just because of the fluid situation,” Bonecutter said. “Actually, somebody had reached out to me over in Ohio, what they’re doing now, which I know it may change, but it’s something for us to ponder and at least look at because if other counties are doing this, then it’s not reckless for us to talk about it.”
Bonecutter said she believed it was the Gallipolis City Schools that are not in masks, saying it was recommended but not required. She said if there is a positive case, a mask is to be worn for 14 days after last exposure, but the students can attend school or choose to quarantine at home, self-monitoring. If symptomatic, students are to isolate and test, but if there are no symptoms and a negative test after seven days, the use of masks can be discontinued.
“They went on to say the reason they are doing this is the out-of-school quarantine had unintended consequences of reducing school learning, adding stress to parents, schools, health departments and more importantly the kids,” Bonecutter said. “We’ve spoke about the mental effects of quarantines on the kids, the isolation, things like that. And that’s what they’re seeing.”
Bonecutter said she was told the schools are using national experience as well as a pilot program out of Warren County, Ohio that “pointed to a low number of contacts that actually turned into cases because of the quarantines.”
“I just wanted to bring it to our attention because that’s another option we can be kind of discussing and whatnot, but I just found it interesting,” Boncutter said.
Cossin said the plan Warren is under is the one she mentioned at a previous meeting.
Bonecutter said the plan was for the entire state of Ohio, but each county could tweak as they saw fit.
“That’s what this was for and really it was to keep kids in schools,” Bonecutter said. “The masks offer protection for others that way. I mean, they’re in schools, they choose to wear masks and still be there. But they saw, I think there were a lot of quarantines that didn’t amount to anything.”
At the time of the meeting, Nov. 10, there were nine active cases in the county’s schools and 26 in quarantine.
As of Nov. 15, the Mason County School’s COVID-19 dashboard on the county’s website listed 13 active cases and 24 in quarantine.
Billings said he had not intended to speak on the issue, but in his opinion masks are not going away.
“This is just my opinion, the masks are not going to come off,” Billings said. “We got Thanksgiving coming up, when Thanksgiving comes up, parents and families get together. They always look at that to be a spike… Then we go into Christmas and other holidays…then you go into the winter and that’s when possibly a flu or something comes into the hospitals. As we’ve seen what’s happened in the past, we’re going to see spikes that are going to go up, they’re going to go down.”
Billings said in his opinion there should not be a timeline spoken, “giving false hope” to anyone. He said he could be wrong, but reiterated that this was his opinion.
Billings also mentioned that masks are not worn at out-of-school events, including sporting events, event when held on school property. This is something Shobe said he has had a problem with from the beginning and has brought up at previous meetings.
Tennant said if we see numbers climb, a mandate would be needed at those events.
“Our numbers are good now, they’re very good right now,” Tennant said. “But if we start seeing a growth in the numbers, I would think we would have to start mandating if we we’re going to continue our sports and everything.”
Cossin said it was the governor who mandated the masks at those events.
One thing to think about if the board decides to remove masks at this time is the parent’s possible decision to transfer students to virtual schooling or vice versa, Burdette said. Currently the policy says students can switch platforms at the start of the semester.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to toss around — again [decision] shouldn’t be up to us — what’s going to best suit everyone,” Cossin said. “You’ve kind of got two groups. I’ve said this for the last two years, it’s kind of a 50/50 split.”
Cossin said she does not think COVID is going away and she does not want to keep masks on forever, either.
Bonecutter said her biggest thing currently is the quarantines as “we’re not seeing these quarantines convert to cases.”
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Shobe said, but noted a decision would probably not be finalized that night, something Bonecutter agreed with.
“I feel like we need to realistically look at something that sticks, period,” Cossin said. “And that’s what I’ve mentioned before, I’ve just tried to look from all angles.”
The board took no action on masking — discussing future discussions, questions for Dr. Wes Lieving and the plan to potentially have a plan by the next meeting.
In other business, a superintendent evaluation was presented. Billings said down the line, schools will post on what they are doing for evaluations and other schools may decide to change tactics or implement other options.
Bonecutter motioned to accept the presented evaluation — Policy 5309 — Cossin made a second with the motion passing 5-0.
The next Board of Education meeting will be Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 6 p.m.
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Brittany Hively is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @britthively; reach her at (740) 446-2342 ext 2555.