FAIRMONT — The Marion County School Board is leaning toward requiring masks in schools for the fall term based on guidance from multiple health care officials.

At Monday’s board meeting, the board confronted the new guidance given by Marion County Health Department Administrator Lloyd White. White was recently reported to suggest students in both higher learning and public schools should wear masks for the 2021-22 school year regardless of vaccination status.

The change in mandate comes from concerns regarding the COVID-19 delta variant, which is far more transmissible.

“What we know about the Delta variant is that it’s much easier to transmit than some of the other variants, and if you get it, potentially, you’ll have a much more severe illness,” White said in published reports. “Our message has got to be clear. Whatever steps we take to prevent transmission, we really need to be vigilant and do it. So, yes, I would recommend wearing a mask and social distancing to the extent possible.”

White is scheduled to appear at the Aug. 10 school board meeting to discuss where the district is and what his official stance is on the face coverings issue.

White’s comments come just days after the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course on July 27 and said all students and staff should wear masks inside schools, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated.

While the school board took no official action at Monday’s meeting, School Superintendent Donna Hage stopped short of saying that masks are likely coming back.

“[White] is recommending masks at this time,” Hage said. “We’re leaning toward masks right now, from Lloyd.”

After the meeting, Hage clarified her stance.

“Marion County Schools will discuss the latest information with Lloyd White on where Marion County is at the Aug. 10 meeting,” Hage said. “We will make an announcement closer to that date.”

Later this month, the three high schools will host clinics for students who are entering 7th and 12th grades can receive their required vaccinations. At those same clinics, the voluntary COVID-19 vaccine will also be available.

“We’re going to feel like referees,” Board Member James Saunders said, “blow the whistle and this half is going to love us and this half is going to hate us.”

Updates on construction projects

At Monday’s meeting, the board also received updates from two firms working on projects for the school system.

Jason Miller, principal architect at Omni Associates, gave another update on the East Dale Elementary expansion project and asked for guidance from the board regarding optional additions and paths the project can take.

The expansion will include four new pre-K classrooms and four new kindergarten classrooms. The initial bid also includes a new, more secure entryway.

The board will seek matching funds from the state for the addition of a new, renovated front office and entry area that was requested by the administration and staff of East Dale, but more information on that will be given at the next board meeting.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new addition is scheduled for Aug. 20.

Jeff Gola, of The Thrasher Group, of Bridgeport, updated the board on an assessment of some structural cracks at East Fairmont Middle School

“We’ve seen this before at other facilities unfortunately,” Gola said. “This happens when you build on virgin ground and build on fill material and when that happens, things don’t want to play nice together.”

He said engineers from The Thrasher Group plan to drill core samples and find the cause of the cracking.

The next board meeting will be a special session held on Aug. 10 at 6 p.m. at the central office.

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

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