HAMLIN — Like others throughout West Virginia, Lincoln County Schools have felt the impact of COVID-19. Superintendent Jeff Kelley said the pandemic has brought with it challenges not only to the county, but in school systems across the state.
“I think from the superintendent’s meeting last week that everybody’s kind of dealing with the same impact from this thing that we are,” Kelley said. “Shortages of subs, quarantines, things of that nature.”
Kelley said Tuesday numbers appeared to be trending down, and he hoped that trajectory continued so students and staff could return to some sense of normalcy soon.
Lincoln County Schools adopted its current COVID-19 mitigation policy in August, on the evening before school was set to begin for the 2021-22 school year. The board met again in a special session August 24, where they unanimously voted to continue following the previously issued COVID-19 mitigation protocols suggested to them by the Lincoln County Health Department.
That initial vote came during the regularly scheduled meeting August 17 after an update on COVID-19 from Hope Duncan of School Health Services.
“We went into last year not knowing what was ahead,” Duncan said at the previous meeting.
“Everything was unknown. It was a pandemic, unprecedented times. And here we are with a variant, so we still have some of that to face.”
The policy includes recommendations both for everyday instances, and for when Lincoln County moves into either the orange or red categories on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources county alert map. Lincoln has remained red for most of the time since school began.
Under the adopted guidance, masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors when Lincoln County is orange or red on the county alert map The mask requirement will then remain in place until Lincoln County is gold or better on the alert map for three consecutive days. Masks may also be required at individual school sites if school spread is evident, according to the guidance document.
The guidance notes that any student who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition, a mental health condition or disability, and students who would be unable to remove a mask without assistance are not required to wear face coverings. Documentation from a physician must be provided excusing the student from the mask requirement, however.
When Lincoln County is not in the red or orange, masks will still be required on school buses for all students at all times. Drivers will be asked to wear masks during loading and unloading of passengers. Masks will also be recommended for students, staff members and visitors that are not fully vaccinated for all indoor activities.
Baker was the only one to vote against the adoption of this policy August 17. He, however, voted in favor of it on August 24. Baker also asked that Superintendent Jeff Kelley provide regular updates to board members on any cases or outbreaks within the schools.
Baker also requested that Kelley put together regular comparisons between Lincoln’s numbers and those from surrounding counties that do not require masks for their students. He said the reasoning for this was that if Lincoln’s numbers are similar to those of counties not requiring masks, that it may give reason to reconsider the recommendations from the Health Department.
Kelley said he would continue to provide information to the members, and that COVID-19 mitigation would be added to every board meeting agenda for the foreseeable future in case any policies need to be addressed or changed.
Pierce was at the special session August 24 and spoke against the usage of masks in schools.
The board has also adopted the West Virginia Board of Education’s new quarantine protocols.
The updated rules no longer require a school to quarantine students or staff if an universal mask policy is in place. Contact tracing would only be needed if someone was exposed in the cafeteria or during another extracurricular activity where people are not wearing masks. The state recommends schools limit potential exposure by having students eat in a group of friends or in their classroom.
The definitions of a school outbreak has also been changed to keep buildings open if there is a manageable number of cases. A school outbreak will only be declared if more than three cases, or 10%, of students or staff in a specific group test positive for COVID-19. Schools can now only be closed if so many teachers are out sick that it becomes unsafe to hold in-person instruction or double the normal amount of students are absent.
The Lincoln County Board of Education has kept COVID-19 as an action item on all meeting agendas and will continue to do so indefinitely.