Hancock County school board continues mask requirement
By CRAIG HOWELL
Special to The Review
NEW CUMBERLAND — The Hancock County Board of Education voted Monday to continue its face covering requirement for another two weeks, noting the issue will again be discussed during the board’s Oct. 25 meeting.
Superintendent Dawn Petrovich explained there has been a decline in COVID cases within the school system, noting 23 individuals had tested positive, with a total of 42 individuals recommended for quarantine. The quarantine numbers include those who have been in close contact with a positive-testing individual, whether it be at home, in school or as part of outside activities.
“Our numbers, as of Friday, were much better,” she said.
Petrovich explained the numbers are reported both from the schools and the county health department.
On Sept. 27, Petrovich reported 71 positive cases within the school system, with 146 people quarantined. When the mask requirements were put in place Sept. 8, there were 42 positive cases and 551 people quarantined.
The mask requirements, which were extended by a 3-1 vote, apply to all students, staff and visitors within all school facilities, on buses and during extracurricular activities. Board member Chris Gillette cast the lone dissenting vote, with member Toni Hinerman not in attendance.
Gillette questioned the fairness of the quarantining process, explaining his son had been affected by a positive case at Weir High School last week, which he said resulted in several students missing homecoming activities. Some of those, he said, were vaccinated.
Board member Larry Shaw explained the board continues to receive the same recommendation from the state Department of Education, although state officials have taken no action of their own.
“It’s another version of what we went through last year,” he said. “This time, they’ve abdicated any responsibility.”
Prior to the vote, the board heard from two residents, who spoke against the masking requirement.
Teri Pasco, who also spoke before the board Sept. 27, questioned the effectiveness of masking, also saying she feels the county health department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have lost credibility.
She encouraged the board to leave decisions for children up to the parents of the county.
“Decisions for the health of a minor belong to the parent,” Pasco said.
Resident Olivia Welch also spoke, saying she had sent a certified letter to both Petrovich and board President Danny Kaser outlining 25 studies or reports going against the idea of masking. Kaser said he had not received the letter, but Petrovich did.
Welch cited studies which say children, without treatment, have a 99.8 percent recovery rate from COVID-19, also telling board members children go without masks in every other avenue of their lives.
“They are maskless all the time,” she said.
Welch also called into question whether the board is receiving any funding in exchange for implementing the mask rules. Kaser said he is unaware of any.
Near the end of the meeting, Kaser expressed his appreciation for the work of the school nurses and county health department employees.
“I will support and value their input until this pandemic is over,” Kaser said.