Masks have been a matter of disagreement in schools for the better part of two school calendars. Some people believe they are necessary to keep students and staff safe. Others say it’s time to toss them aside, quoting a variety of reasons.
A handful of parents showed up at Monday’s regular meeting of the Webster County School Board to voice their opposition to continued mandatory masking in classrooms around the county. With time limits of three minutes, they each asked that the board make masks optional so that each family can make their own decision.
“There are 12,982 people in Webster County,” said Miranda Parker. “Just 24 people in a seven-day span puts us in the reed. That’s two-tenths of a%. I hope you take into account we are a small community.”
Parker pointed out the importance for children to be able to see the faces of their teachers and fellow students as part of their development.
“Seeing faces is how we navigate society,” she added.
Lindsey Mitchell told the board that her daughter has asthma, and that it is uncomfortable for her to wear the masks for long periods of time.
“I could have tried to get a medical exemption for her, but I didn’t think that was fair to the other kids,” she said. “My concern is my child. I am her advocate, and I hope we can move on with optional masking.”
Kim Savage pointed out that in her discussions with her son, masks have detracted from the learning process.
“It seems that masks have become such a focus that learning is coming second,” she said. “There are a lot of us out there who feel this way.”
Amy Martinez pointed out that the same kids who are masking in the classroom aren’t masking anywhere else.
“I hope you don’t go by that chart,” she said, indicating the revised policy in front of the board.
Board vice-chairman Tim McCormick was the lone voice of opposition to any plan that included mandatory masks.
“Why are we only listening to the health department on when to mask?” he asked. “I don’t understand how the health department rules these schools when it comes to masking.”
Kim Saalwaechter, director of special education for the district, has been the point person for schools on how to approach COVID policies. She disagreed that the health department had anything to do with whether the schools mandated masks or not.
“You can vote against it tonight,” she said of the policy proposal.
McCormick confirmed he would vote against it. “I can’t vote for anything with mandatory masking.”
Board members Venita Murphy, James Nance, and Jill Simpson all said they agreed with the policy changes, and that they felt masking was important.
“If the health department says this is going to protect our children, then I am going to agree with them,” said Simpson.
The new policy passed 4-1, and is very close to the one the district followed earlier this year, according to Superintendent Rhonda Calloway.
The county is currently classified as “red” by the state’s system of evaluating case numbers. Since COVID was classified as a pandemic, Kentucky’s number of cases needed to be considered a ‘red” county has been 25 cases out of 100,000 population over seven days. The Centers for Disease Control has retained 100 or more cases per 100,000 population during the same period to consider community spread to be in the “red.”
In the last reporting period prior to Monday’s meeting, Webster County was listed as having 13 new cases over the week ending Tuesday, Nov. 16.
The new policy does bring some relief to those who would like to make masks optional for families. While the board still retains control over when masking is required, the practice will only be mandatory when the county is classified as ‘red.” All other color codes — orange, yellow, and green — masks will be left up to the parents.
However, in schools where maintaining a distance of three feet between students is impossible, the policy states “they may have to be masked in classrooms.”
Masks remain mandatory on school buses, and contract tracing and mitigation will remain in place, according to the policy statement.
The decision as to whether masks will be mandatory will be made each Thursday, and parents will receive an “all-call” on Friday to inform them of the next week’s requirements.
Several changes could be coming to the way citizens of Webster County vote, from combined voting locations to new machines that could make the process more secure.
In Monday’s regular meeting of Webster County Fiscal Court, the governing body gave permission to County Clerk Valerie Newell to inform the state they would be purchasing new voting machines in the coming months. The move is to ensure the county has access to grant money to offset the cost of the new equipment.
According to Newell, the county would receive $30,800 from the state to use toward the expenditure. Newell estimated the total cost of the machines at approximately $162,000.
“The total amount we would receive is based on the precincts in the county,” Newell told fiscal court members. “This may be our only opportunity in the next couple of years to get state money.”
As of the last election, the county set up voting for 14 precincts. But voters in the larger towns of Providence, Clay, Dixon, and Sebree could all see combined districts or multiple precincts voting in the same location. The changes are awaiting approval from the state to be enacted.
According to Newell, Clay, Dixon, and Sebree would be combined into single respective precincts. Each is presently made up of two precincts, north and south. This change would allow her office to conduct voting with fewer machines and poll workers.
Judge-Executive Steve Henry said he hoped the state legislature, which will return to Frankfort for its regular session Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, will allocate more money to the counties to meet new federal election requirements that all voting machines must create a paper trail.
While the standard voting machines currently in use do require a paper ballot to be filled out and digitally entered, the machines for those with disabilities do not. The new federal rules would require the replacement of that equipment.
The next election for Kentucky is in May when the primaries will set the stage for the 2022 general election in November.
In other business, the fiscal court granted permission to Henry to enter into a contract with Lose Design of Nashville for plans to be created for the new county park around Walker Lake, which was once Lake Reel-Em-In.
The contract will cover various aspects of the design, including trails, camping areas, parking, buildings, and other improvements. The total for the plans will be $45,000.
Henry told the court that Lee Davidson, the firm’s executive vice president, had walked the property with him and other county personnel to get a feel for what could be done with the property.
“Walking it with him, you could tell he really knows what he’s talking about,” said Doug Sauls, who performs a variety of roles with the county.
Henry said that the county had already invested a large amount of non-taxpayer funds in the park, and that the $45,000 would be a good investment.
“We need a plan,” he said, adding that having it place before work can begin again in the spring will move the project along more quickly.
Lose Design completed the plan for Mahr Park in Madisonville.
The court also approved an agreement with Ron Johnson & Associates in the amount of $15,000 for improvements to the spillway at the park.
The county purchased the land earlier this year with grant funds. It comprises over 200 acres, including a 65 acre lake.
• Approved second reading of a budget amendment for unanticipated revenue of $825,046 in the road fund and $12,739.10 in the general fund. The money is not guaranteed, but an amendment must be passed by state law to accommodate the change to the county budget filed with the state.
• Approved a bid of $152,870 from Swift Roofing of Murray for rook work on the court house. The bid was approximately $7,000 less than the only other bid the county received.
• Approved a budget amendment of $9,826 for an AARP grant received by the Senior Citizens Center.
• Agreed to enter a settlement participation form in the national class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and other distributors for their roles in the opioid abuse epidemic across the country. The county entered the class action in November, 2019. The form would allow the county to receive funds in the suit if the two sides agree on a settlement amount in January.
An ongoing investigation into drug activity led to the arrest of three Dixon residents last Friday.
According to a release by the Providence Police Department, information the agency acquired led officers to a home at 132 US Hwy. 41-A in Dixon. After obtaining a warrant for the residence, officers from the PPD and Webster County Sheriff’s Office executed a search late Friday night.
The search turned up suspected methamphetamine, marijuana, and a variety of drug paraphernalia.
Terri Frailey, 42, and Justin “Turbo” Wilson, 30, were both arrested and charged with first degree possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Chelsey Webb, 25, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
All three were housed in Webster County Detention Center.
Cameron Edwards, who has been active in several areas of civic engagement in Webster and Hopkins counties, was recently named to a prestigious program that addresses a variety of issues affecting communities across the South.
Edwards is one of 33 people from a variety of backgrounds and professions chosen for the 2022 Delta Leadership Institute organized annually by the Delta Regional Authority.
The Webster County resident is Senior Pastor of Webb Memorial and Slaughters First United Methodist churches. He is also Chairman of the Hopkins County Regional Chamber Of Commerce Board of Directors.
He has been involved in the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and Kentucky Young Farmers Association. He also was a past member of Kiwanis and Lions clubs in Madisonville, as well as Hopkins County Young Professionals. He has served on numerous education committees and as a youth sports coach.
The DRA is a federal-state partnership created in 2000 by the U.S. Congress to promote economic development in the lower Mississippi River Delta and Alabama Black Belt regions. It covers 252 counties and parishes over eight states, including Kentucky.
The institute is a nine-month executive leadership program that brings together leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to focus on the needs of communities in the DRA’s target areas. The intent is to gather participants to discuss the necessities for growth of business and job creation. The goal is to improve the program graduates’ knowledge of how to overcome a variety of challenges to help economic development.
Areas of focus in the multiple sessions include transportation, policy and government, entrepreneurship, infrastructure, culture and tourism, and regionalism, among others. The sessions will be held in New Orleans; Memphis; Washington DC; Carbondale, IL; Selma, AL; and Cleveland, MS.
Edwards is one of three named to the 2022 class from Kentucky. Jason Lemle of Mayfield and Missy Vanderpool of Henderson are both heads of their respective counties’ economic development organizations.
Since 2005, the DLI has hosted more than 600 community leaders in the Delta region.