Education, Latest News, State Government

Burch to local school districts: It’s your call on masking

MORGANTOWN — On Tuesday, Donna Talerico, the deputy superintendent of Monongalia County’s school district, said she and other officials were awaiting direction from the state on masking for the coming academic year.

On Wednesday, State Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch delivered that direction – in boomerang fashion.

Any such mandate, for now, he said, won’t come from Charleston. It will be up to the local school boards of all 55 counties in the Mountain State, instead.

“If you feel you need it, wear a mask,” he said during an afternoon briefing with reporters. “But really, local superintendents will be looking at that individually for their counties.”

Speaking during his regular briefing session with reporters Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice agreed.

“I’m going to leave a tremendous amount of that decision to the locals because they know best,” the governor said.

The local directive, though, does contradict somewhat earlier messages from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With the surging Delta variant putting people in hospitals and on ventilators, the CDC crafted a nationwide response which calls for the masking of students, teachers and anyone else associated with any school – given the highly infectious properties of the strain.

Younger people across the country are being hospitalized and put on ventilators due to Delta.

Last week in West Virginia, Kanawha County’s Board of Education members voted 3-2 to mandate masks for students in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade.

Just hours after Burch’s remarks Wednesday in the Mountain State, the mayor of Columbia, S.C., issued a state of emergency mandating mask-wearing for its students this school year.  

Burch, however, said school boards here shouldn’t hesitate to consult with the local health department as everyone charts the second wave of the pandemic.

And besides, he said, there’s only one proven way to derail Delta – and that’s by getting vaccinated.

He added more dollars and cents to that incentive.

Last month he launched a vaccination campaign known as, “I Got Vaxxed.”

That’s the campaign that had originally earmarked $5,000 apiece to an elementary school, middle school and high school in the state, boasting the highest percentage of the students and others inoculated against COVID.

The superintendent bolstered the field Wednesday, saying 12 schools with top vaccination rates in the contest would receive $50,000 apiece.

Nothing like a sporting proposition, Bernie Dolan said.

Dolan is the executive director of the state’s Secondary Schools Activities Commission, which oversees high school sports, marching band and cheerleading activities.

Getting vaccinated doesn’t save lives, he said. It saves seasons.

Last year, whole sports teams were benched from the contact tracing necessary anytime someone in a public setting contracts the virus.

A vaccination means no such quarantining from practice and games, he said.

“Because we know that’s the best and safest way to participate.

TWEET @DominionPostWV