During an emergency meeting held Wednesday, the Buckeye Valley Board of Education voted to continue the district’s mask requirement for K-8 students.
The board held the emergency meeting to follow up on its Aug. 18 meeting where members voted to institute a mask mandate for students at the elementary schools and Buckeye Valley Middle School. Superintendent Dr. Andy Miller gave the board an update on the district’s numbers as of Wednesday, stating there were six active cases in the district and 25 students were currently in quarantine.
The board invited Delaware Health Commissioner Shelia Hiddleson to speak at the meeting. She encouraged attendees to consider who is in their circle of close contacts when they make a decision about whether or not to wear a mask.
“That’s where we have to think about our community,” Hiddleson said. “If we don’t try to control this where we can, we could even see more COVID than what we’re seeing.”
Hiddleson also answered the board’s questions about the pandemic in the county as well as quarantine policies.
The board, in light of numerous requests for public comment during the meeting, elected to suspend one of its rules to allow for extended time for public participation. Board President Justin Osborn said there were about 40 requests for comment from the public, which included in-person requests and letters sent via email.
After nearly 80 minutes of public comments, the board discussed whether or not to extend the current mask requirement.
The board disagreed about the quarantine policy presented by Hiddleson and whether or not it would allow students who were a close contact to an infected student to still attend in-person classes if they were asymptomatic and wore a mask, instead of quarantining at home.
The board agreed to reach out to Hiddleson and the health district again on Thursday to ask for clarification and potentially hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the mask requirement again.
“We should get clarity (with) the health department to make everybody comfortable,” Osborn said. “The other question is, are we going to continue with the mask mandate or are we going to allow parents to choose?”
Board member Randy Turner said the district should take whatever path keeps as many students in school for as much of the year as possible, and the district saw during the first week of school that a majority of students would not wear masks if they were optional.
“Our decision has to be based on whether or not a kid gets to stay in school,” Turner added. “Our focus should be on whether or not a maximum number of kids get to stay in school. … It’s going to continue to spread, which means we’re going to continue to have COVID cases in our population, which means that we’re still going to have quarantines. If we can minimize the number of kids who have to stay home, we can maximize our opportunity for education. If (students) wear masks, more kids get to stay in school, that’s the simple fact.”
The board voted 3-2 in favor of keeping the K-8 mask requirement. Board Vice President Amy Dutt, board member Jamie Ottery and Turner voted yes, while Osborn and board member Jeff White voted no.
The board will meeting next at 6 p.m. Sept. 15. An emergency meeting had not yet been set for Sept. 3 at press time Thursday.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.