POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Board of Education voted, 5-0 on Tuesday, to drop all masking mandates, making masks optional in schools across the county.
Board members Dale Shobe, Rhonda Tennant, Meagan Bonecutter, Jared Billings and Ashley Cossin were in attendance. Superintendent Keith Burdette was also present.
During public delegations, Mark Oliver, parent, addressed the board. Oliver has addressed the board several times since the beginning of the school year about his concern with masking children.
“I wanted to start out by saying that I appreciate the board members that stayed after the last board meeting,” Oliver said. “We had a good, healthy conversation, I enjoyed it. It’s easy for people to get in their own corners and almost dehumanize other people. So, it’s good to talk, look each other in the eye [and] talk to each other — openly, honestly, respectfully.”
Oliver also asked the board to drop all mask mandates immediately, citing there is no scientific evidence that children should be wearing masks.
During voting several of the board members had asked to pull agenda item 13.02: “recommend the board discuss and take possible action on the 2021/22 school year,” for discussion.
When discussion opened, Cossin said she proposed to drop the mask mandate.
“I’m going to keep it very short, not go into any personal thoughts, [my] researching over the past several weeks, none of that. I would like to move that we stop with the masks, remove the mandate,” Cossin said. “And with that though, looking at what several other counties have done, for me that also comes with our nurses not contract tracing anymore and actually getting back to school nursing. Just following the regular illness policy as far as stuffy nose doesn’t get you sent home, a fever does.”
Cossin did address positive cases, citing what other counties are doing.
“The only thing I see is positive cases, isolate for the five days from onset [symptoms] or positive test, like everywhere else is doing,” Cossin said. “Recommend a mask day six through 10, they come back when they’ve been fever free for 24 hours, which is basically what all the guidelines say.”
Cossin said she would also like families to be notified if their children have been exposed by a known positive case in their classrooms, so they can watch for symptoms and be aware. Nurses can still report known positive cases to the health department.
“The DHHR [Department of Health and Human Resources] is now wanting to treat it like the flu and so that’s what we do too,” Cossin said.
Tennant said she agreed with Cossin on the proposal.
“Before Christmas, some people would [said] we’ll never get rid of these masks and I said I don’t believe that, some of us said we want to as soon as our numbers[were where] we felt like it was okay and safe to do that,” Tennant said. “Last Thursday, Governor Justice made an announcement that the number of active cases in our state is currently down by 75%. That’s down an awful lot.”
Tennant said even looking at the schools’ numbers from the weekend, they were down and the downward trend seemed to be the general consensus.
“I think the time is right for us to make this move,” Tennant said.
Bonecutter’s prior stance has been no masks, but as Ohio Valley Publishing previously reported, she worked to meet in the middle and only have masks when numbers met a specific threshold.
“I want it effective immediately,” Bonecutter said at this week’s meeting.
“I’ll just say, my stance from day one has been optional,” Billings said. “I’m glad that it sounds like we are finally there. I’m glad we’re finally able to move on and put this behind us, hopefully get back to somewhat normalcy.”
“Concentrate on education,” Cossin said. “I miss getting to have conversations about that. It’s what we’re here for.”
A motion was made to make masks optional, effective immediately and nurses will no longer be doing contact tracing. If there is a positive case, they are to isolate for five days with masks recommended on days six through 10, as they return to school. Masks on buses are optional as well.
As noted earlier in this story, the motion unanimously passed.
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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.