Education, Latest News, Preston County

Preston County Schools to mask up after contentious meeting

KINGWOOD — At an emotional and disorderly emergency meeting of the Preston County Board of Education Monday morning, board members voted 3-2 in favor of requiring masks until Sept. 27, with a provision that each school have a place for students to unmask.

Board members Jeff Zigray and Pam Feathers voted against the mandate. Zigray, who was the only board member not wearing a mask, said he doesn’t believe masks work but vaccines do. He pointed out that Sunday night, Barbour County Schools, which started the year with masks, went virtual. 

After the meeting was over, Feathers told the room, “Make no bones about it, my no decision was not because I disagree with we need masks in school, my no decision was because nothing productive has come from this afternoon. This has been adults with a childlike display. … We have bylaws to follow.”

The missing portion of that quote was unintelligible in a recording of the meeting, due to multiple people talking. About 20 people showed up to the meeting to oppose masks with a lesser number in support of masks.

The meeting started with public comment, which saw seven people speak out against a mask mandate and three, including a student, in favor of a mandate. People on both sides applauded after each speaker and did not interrupt one another

Next, each board member offered their thoughts. 

Board President Jack Keim said, “And as far as workplaces requiring masks, I work in Lowe’s and Oakland, Maryland and they require me to wear a mask. That doesn’t mean I agree with it. That means that they require me to wear masks. It’s not my choice. Each of us in our lifetime have worked or did things. In West Virginia you have the freedom to carry arms. What happens if your child wants to take a pistol and carry it into school? Is that okay?”

At that point, several people in the crowd shouted it wasn’t relevant. The crowd called down, and Keim began speaking again only for the crowd to drown him out. 

“That’s enough, now either be quiet or I’ll have you removed,” Keim shouted. He then asked a sheriff’s deputy, one of several present, to remove the gentleman in the blue shirt if he said another word.

A short time later, that man, Rodney Zinn, who spoke against masks because he said they gave his kid headaches and made him cough last year, left the room while Keim was asking about COVID safety protocols for the school that weren’t related to masks.

“It’s funny you guys have masks on, so you can hide the shame,” Zinn said as he left.

The room turned chaotic as the board was discussing the motion to mandate masks, which it eventually passed.  Keim told a woman who had her hand raised in the back that there could be no open discussion.

“So we can’t question anything you say?” she asked. 

“No, that is correct,” Keim said.

Someone asked when school board elections were. Another person said officials need to represent their community and the board wasn’t. Kiem called for quiet. A woman said the board had decided what it was going to do and if she was going to be arrested and removed for standing up for her children, she accepted it.

Around that time, Captain T.N. Tichnell of the Preston County Sheriff’s Office said, “It is not the board of education’s call if you’re interrupting their meeting, it’s our call. So please keep it civil. We can not do, if he says, ‘Remove them,’ that’s not the way that works. So, if we as law enforcement officers decide you’re interrupting, then criminal charges [can be pressed].”

Tichnell continued to talk to the audience, and the conversation grew loud and difficult to understand with multiple people speaking over each other. 

Keim banged his gavel and said, “Sir you’re not involved in this meeting, as the leader of the meeting … our open meeting laws says that I’m in control of the meeting. You’re interrupting my meeting.”

Tichnell said he apologized and was leaving, then walked out of the meeting to applause from the audience. 

After some more shouting, Keim called for the vote. 

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