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Kanawha County School Board members on Monday voted 3 to 2 to require children from preschool through fifth grade to wear masks at school, while leaving children from sixth grade to 12th grade with the choice to wear one.

With the first day for Kanawha public school students coming Monday, board members discussed options for a mask policy, including a blanket policy, requiring only children not eligible for the vaccine to wear masks, having only elementary school-aged children wear masks or letting the choice ultimately fall on parents and children. Currently, only children 12 or older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Board member Jim Crawford made a motion during debate to implement a parental choice policy for all ages, but if Gov. Jim Justice was to mandate full mask wearing in public schools down the road, Kanawha Superintendent Tom Williams could immediately implement that policy.

Board member Ryan White first amended Crawford’s motion to allow children in seventh through 12th grades to choose, while requiring masks for children in preschool through sixth grade. After concerns about complications in middle schools, White amended the motion to allow a choice for sixth through 12th graders while mandating masks solely in elementary schools.

Ryan White, Ric Cavender and Becky Jordon voted in favor of White’s amended motion, then to pass the policy, while board members Tracy White and Crawford voted against.

Board members clarified toward the end of the meeting that the policy will be in place for all staff and students who are in elementary schools.

Ryan White said it was important to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which most recently called for all students in all levels of schooling to wear masks. He dismissed remarks saying children will not be able to learn properly while wearing them.

“We’re just talking about a mask. That’s it. That’s all it is. Our students did well last year,” he said. “Kids don’t have an issue with masks. We have not had an issue with it.”

White pointed to ballooning numbers of the delta variant in West Virginia, with positive virus cases moving Sunday from 4 cases per 100,000 people to 10 cases per 100,000 people on Monday, as to why the board should require masks now.

“If we don’t do this it’s going to continue to spread,” he said.

Crawford said he would support a mandate if Justice implemented one, but until then, he said the decision should be left to parents.

“I don’t think we should be telling people that they have to wear a mask if they don’t want to do that,” he said.

Reach Joe Severino at, 304-348-4814 or follow @jj_severino on Twitter.

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