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Mom and social worker to BOE: Lessen the mask mandate

MORGANTOWN — Headaches. Nosebleeds. Dizziness. Angsty feelings of isolation.

All of the above are why Carmen Abreu would like Monongalia County’s school district to relax its face mask mandate for students in younger grades.

Abreu is a licensed social worker and mental health therapist who counsels children.

She has five kids of her own – and four of them wear face masks for hours at time during the course of their school days in the local district.

Abreu, who spoke during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, said students, especially younger ones, simply need a break from the mask during the day.

The clinical motivation, she said, is because COVID transmission rates are less than 1% in Mon’s school buildings.

“Imagine our children that are still young,” she told the BOE. “Their lungs are still developing. Their brains are still developing.”

Two of her children, she said, now complain of headaches when they didn’t before, which she attributes to mask-wearing.

The social reasons, she said, are more complex.

Masks, she said, also cloud a key communication exchange between student and teacher.

“If you have children, you know that they speak a lot nonverbally,” Abreu said. “Teachers can’t pick up if a child needs help.”

The social worker and mom also provided the board with data from medical sources to back up her call to lessen the mandate.

Donna Talerico said the district weighed all those factors in when it established its return-to-school guidelines this time last year.

Facial coverings aren’t required if a student has specific medical consideration that could make mask-wearing dangerous, the deputy superintendent said.

Each school in the district is supplied with alternative coverings, also, such as hat configurations with clear shields, she said.

And playgrounds have designated areas, where students may remove their masks during times at recess.

Masking up, she said, is why cases are down in the county.

“I think we’ve very fortunate in seeing our students not have much of the contagion,” she said.

BOE member Mike Kelly said he’d like to see designated periods during the day where high school students can share their faces – without masks.

“At the high school level, it’s, ‘When nobody is looking,’ ” he said. “I know if we don’t them a break, they’re going to make the break on their own.”

The only way to break clear of the pandemic, fellow board member Sara Anderson said, is through herd immunity – which comes by vaccinations.

While some public universities mandate that procedure, Monongalia County Schools doesn’t.

No mandate, she said, means up-and-down cycles of infections, which will likely lead to schools having to shift to remote learning.

Anderson wondered aloud if some “creative incentives” could be introduced to get students to roll up their sleeves.

In the meantime, three more positive cases were reported in the district: One student apiece, at University High, Westwood Middle and North Elementary.