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School Board changes facemask policy
Director of Schools Grant Swallows
Director of Schools Grant Swallows talks at Monday night's School Board meeting at Bobby Ray Elementary.

Masks will not be required at Warren County Schools, no matter how high the level of COVID spread, according to action taken Monday night by the Warren County Board of Education.

In a meeting held in the Bobby Ray Elementary cafeteria, the School Board voted to modify its existing policy that made facemasks mandatory when the community COVID positivity rate exceeded 25%.

Board members passed a motion that states facemasks are now recommended, not required, when the community is in the red zone, or over 25%.

The measure passed 4-2.

Voting in favor of making facemasks recommended instead of required were Sue Anderson, Tanya Bess, Tommy Culwell and Helen Martin.

Voting against the policy revision and wanting to keep facemasks required over the 25% positivity rate were James Bennett and Bill Zechman.

Before the vote, Culwell said he believes people are letting science and politics interfere with public education.

“We’re doing a disservice to our students,” said Culwell. “Instead of teaching them reading, writing and arithmetic, I’m afraid we’re teaching them fear, hatred and division.”

Bennett, a 38-year educator, spoke against the policy change, saying his primary focus is on keeping students and teachers safe at school.

“I’m in fear of what will happen here in Warren County,” said Bennett. “I know we’ve had six deaths in nine days. When it comes to our children and our teachers, I don’t want to have one death.”

There was concern expressed at the meeting about what to do about students and teachers who are in quarantine. These are people who do not have the virus but are being sent home due to contact tracing.

To give these students and teachers an option to having to go home for a minimum of seven days, a motion was presented to allow them to stay in school – provided they agree to wear a mask. That motion passed unanimously, 6-0.

In voting for the facemask measure to allow quarantined students to stay at school, Culwell said he is personally opposed to facemasks, but he is not opposed to some give and take.

“If that helps us get through this quicker than so be it,” said Culwell, who conveyed a story about how his own son expressed a desire to wear a mask when he learned one of his teammates on the WCMS football team was quarantined.

Director of School Grant Swallows called the whole situation “incredibly complex.”

“There are a lot of different views and a lot of different points,” said Swallows. “We’ve received a lot of comments from parents and students and I’m glad we received those. At the end of the day we have to focus on educating our kids … I don’t think any of us disagree on the fact we don’t want people to get sick. So how do we stem the tide?”

Swallows said to allow for a couple days to get the policy in place that will allow students deemed to be in quarantine due to contract tracing to return to school with a facemask.

As of Monday, there were 120 students in Warren County Schools in isolation, Swallows said. That means they have tested positive for COVID. There were 895 students in quarantine, which means contact tracing determined them to be in close contact with a positive person.