WCSD: Masks Optional in Class, Required on Busses

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RUSSELL, Pa. – The Warren County School District confirmed during its regular meeting Monday that wearing masks in buildings would be optional to start the year, though masks will be required on busses.

Due to the standing federal mandate, masks are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, on busses and vans.

The district left the option open to revisit the mask policy if circumstances dictate.

“If things get to a level where we are concerned about community spread, the board and administration will convene,” WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “We will bring the facts to the table and we’ll have a discussion and make those decisions at that time.”

On Aug. 6, Gov. Tom Wolf said he did not plan to implement a statewide mandate, leaving the decision of masking up to individual school districts.

While other districts across the region are tying masks, and other COVID-related policies, to the CDC’s Levels of Community Transmission, Stewart said the WCSD wanted to ensure it left its options open based on the facts at hand.

“We don’t want to attach any specific label to a specific action in isolation,” Stewart said. “We want to look at the context of the whole situation before we were to make any big decision in that vein.”

As part of the return to classroom learning (and to receive Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds under the American Rescue Plan Act), the Warren County School District has been required to submit a Health and Safety Plan to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The plan outlines the steps the district intends to take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

It’s a fluid document that allows the district to make adjustments as circumstances change.

“I think if you look at our track record last year we probably updated that plan 20 times, if not more,” Stewart said.

The Plan approved by the board at Monday’s meeting includes the following language for masks:
“Masks (defined as a material covering the nose and mouth of the wearer, excluding face shields) are required while riding school buses and vans as legally mandated by the CDC’s federal Order dated February 1, 2021, issued pursuant to the Public Health Service Act, and requiring the wearing of masks on conveyances and at transportation hubs. This requirement shall cease at such time as said Order either is no longer in effect or is amended to remove the requirement.
The Board encourages and recommends the wearing of a mask by all persons while inside a school building, regardless of vaccination status. However, the Board is not mandating this at this time. If Warren County is determined to be at high risk of COVID-19 transmission, the Superintendent will analyze the transmission rates and positive cases within the schools and community, share the information with the Board, and the Board may hold meeting for the purpose of deciding whether masks will be required at that time. The Board, at a later date and regardless of
the transmission rate in the County, may also hold a meeting and require that masks be worn in a particular building if an outbreak is identified within that particular building.”

Stewart said Solicitor Chris Byham helped the district draft language in the Plan that would allow the district to hold an emergency meeting if it was concerned about community spread.

“I know this board is dedicated,” Stewart said. “If we needed a new meeting tomorrow, I’m sure that we could have one.”

The district also recently restarted Stewart’s video update series, which provides information about changes to district policies, food service and other issues, on its Facebook page.

Stewart said the district received positive feedback about the videos last year and wanted to continue this year to help keep parents, students, and staff informed throughout the year.

“We put out last week, our first video on the health and safety plan,” Stewart said. “We have some folks that are anxious out there, so I’m just going to start putting that video messaging out there, consistently. People seem to expect that and that’s a good way of getting the word out.”