FAIRMONT — The debate surrounding masks in schools continues, and now the school board is looking to impose a mandate if COVID-19 cases get out of hand.

The board heard public comments and rekindled the discussion surrounding the topic of whether or not students will be required to wear masks in schools this fall regardless of vaccination status.

On Aug. 10, the board was joined by Lloyd White, administrator of the Marion County Health Department, who gave his take on whether masks will be necessary in schools in the coming months.

“People have asked me before if I’m concerned and I’ve always said yes, I’m concerned,” White said at the Aug. 10 meeting. “I got to tell you, I’m worried for what the future may hold with COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant.”

As of now, the school board is following the Health Department’s guidance and will be recommending — not mandating — masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. After Monday’s meeting, School Superintendent Donna Hage released a statement saying that masks will not be mandated as long as Marion County remains low in COVID cases.

In Monday’s release of updated COVID-19 data, Marion County was yellow on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources alert map, while Harrison and Monongalia counties were both gold.

The number of Delta variant cases continues to climb as well with Harrison recording 22 cases, Marion has 18 cases and Mon County has 26 cases. According to DHHR data, there are 80 active COVID cases in Marion County.

The gauge the board will use to determine this is the West Virginia DHHR COVID-19 map.

“In collaboration with the Marion County Health Department, Marion County Schools will move to a mandate for masks in all schools, regardless of vaccination status if Marion County moves into the orange on the WV DHHR COVID-19 map,” Hage said in the statement.

Some members of the school board said masks are an important step in stopping the spread and they aren’t afraid to return to a mandate if numbers require it.

“At this point, we are under a recommendation and I see no problem with it at this point,” School Board Vice President Donna Costello said. “Wear your mask, just wear your mask, it’s that simple. In my opinion, I don’t think anyone should have to be told to do it.”

Other board members echoed her sentiment.

“My first goal is I want to see face-to-face [instruction], second I want to [have students in class] five days a week, third I want to have sports and fine arts, I want to see all that be able to go,” board member James Saunders said. “I think the only way to do all that is to wear a mask. Lloyd White doesn’t sit at this table, but I do listen to [him], I respect him and I’d be a fool to go against him.”

Updates on the status of mask requirements will be posted to the Marion County Schools Facebook page and website.

Academy for the Arts

At its regularly scheduled meeting Monday night, the Marion County Board of Education heard a presentation from Leigh Anne Bolyard, the director of performing arts development and outreach at Fairmont State University.

Bolyard shared the university’s plans, along with the Academy for the Arts, to bring arts opportunities to the schools in the fall and spring.

The Academy is a music-theatre art and dance program for ages five to adult run by art instructors from both the university and Marion County Schools.

“We’re really wanting to extend our reach and get more students involved in our program,” Bolyard said. “Our mission is to build upon the instruction students are already getting from their fabulous arts teachers in the public school system.”

Many of the instructors and students who participate in the Academy are from the Marion County system and Bolyard and the board are hoping that this strengthened involvement between the university and the public schools will enrich the students’ arts education.

“This is certainly not to replace anything, it’s just to add-on and enhance the instruction they’re already getting in school,” Bolyard said.

During her presentation, Bolyard listed several ideas she and the Academy have developed to involve more students from all grade levels.

Some of the plans included a free theatre camp in the high schools for ninth through twelfth graders and traveling to the schools and talk about the program and offering a showcase of sorts. The Academy plans to offer scholarships for students who attending North Marion High pursuing the arts, as well as several other scholarships for students in Marion County.

The Academy recently received a $10,000 grant from the George W. Bowers Family Charitable Trust to go toward making these scholarships possible.

“We would like these funds to be utilized during the 2021-2022 academic year,” Bolyard said. “We’re also looking to bring our university choir and band out maybe to perform some Christmas pieces.”

The board was excited to see these opportunities becoming a reality, including Hage, whose daughter is a frequent student in the Academy for the Arts.

“These are students who find connections to school through music and theatre opportunities and that is a positive way to... keep students involved and thriving in school,” Hage said. “This is an additional layer that adds exposure and support for our students through scholarships and after school programming.”

Other Business

  • The board honored and recognized the Fairmont Senior High School boys cross country team for placing runners up in the state competition.
  • The board honored and recognized the Fairmont Senior High School girls cross country team who won the state championship.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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