West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice clarified his stance on mask mandates in K-12 schools at a recent news conference, saying there will be no statewide mandate at this time, but there will be no prohibitions on school districts imposing mandates if they choose to.
Although the governor said last week he was considering a mandate because of the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, the new announcement increases the likelihood that the upcoming school year will at least start out with no statewide rule. The school year begins in less than two weeks in many districts and Justice said he does not have enough information to justify a mask mandate at this time.
“There are no mandates, there are no plans for mandates and .. we are letting the local people make decisions because one size doesn’t fit all here and we’re going to continue down that pathway until we reach a situation to where the medical community says to me and says ‘governor, you’ve got to move, you’ve got to move in this direction or that direction and then we’ll visit it and look at it in a different light,” Justice said. “And all we can continue to do is hope and pray we don’t reach those levels.”
The governor later criticized governors of other states who have prohibited schools from implementing their own mask mandates. He said the last thing the state needs is “mandating against mandates.” He said not all counties will be in the same health situation and local authorities should determine what’s best for their region.
Justice said he will make an announcement if anything changes.
Official recommendations from the West Virginia Department of Education take a neutral stance on mask mandates. It urged school districts to work with local health officials to determine the best policy in that region. The department urged schools to manage class sizes and promote social distancing, but did not mandate it.
Schools in different regions have taken different approaches. Monongalia County is mandating masks for all students, staff and teachers, regardless of vaccination status. Putnam County announced it would not require masks for any students. Kanawha County is requiring masks from preschool through fifth grade, but not for older students.