Carteret County school board votes 5-2 to keep mask mandate in place until October

County Board of Education member John McLean, left, challenges board member Travis Day, right, on a matter regarding mask requirements during the board’s meeting Tuesday in the multipurpose room at Morehead City Primary School. (Cheryl Burke photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — After listening to emotional parents, a student and community members speak for and against mask mandates, the Carteret County Board of Education voted 5-2 Tuesday evening to keep requiring masks in schools at least until the next board meeting in October.

The decision came during the BOE’s regular meeting Tuesday in the multipurpose room of Morehead City Primary School.

Onslow County Manager Sharon Russell talks with Lockwood Phillips on Coastal Daybreak about area schools, COVID and masks.

After hearing from 21 speakers, Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson and board attorney Neil Whitford, and following a lengthy and heated debate, board member John McLean made the motion to continue the mask mandate until the Tuesday, Oct. 3 meeting. The motion included a stipulation that the administration and board come up with a set of metrics regarding the number of positive COVID-19 cases and quarantines in schools to determine when it’s acceptable for students and staff to not be required to wear masks.

Carteret County school board votes 5-2 to keep mask mandate until October

Natasha Simonds speaks in favor of making masks optional inside schools during the Carteret County Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening at Morehead City Primary School. (Cheryl Burke photo)

“When we hit a certain benchmark we can move in and out of requiring masks,” Mr. McLean said, adding that the overall goal is to keep students in school versus reverting to virtual learning.

Board member Dennis Goodwin seconded the motion, with members Brittany Wheatly, Katie Statler and board chairman Clark Jenkins voting in favor. Kathryn Smith Chadwick and Travis Day voted against.

Wednesday morning, Mr. Jenkins said state law now requires school boards to discuss COVID-19 and the mask mandate each month at their meetings. He believed by the board establishing a set of metrics, it could help ease some of the debate.

“We can look at the numbers and say if we get above this, masks go on, and if it drops below that benchmark, the masks come off,” he said.

Prior to the vote, Dr. Jackson shared statistics from the County Health Department, as well as the school district, showing that the number of students and staff infected with COVID-19 is on the rise, as are the numbers being required to quarantine.

He said between Aug. 23, when the school year started, and Sept. 7, the district has reported 146 confirmed COVID-19 cases in students, representing 1.85% of the current student enrollment.

During the same period, there have been 941 students quarantined, representing 11.9% of current enrollment.

From Aug. 9 through Sept. 7, there have been 112 staff quarantines. That includes 49 quarantined due to being in close contact with someone infected with the virus, and another 62 displaying COVID-19 symptoms and one “other.”

The district has granted 214 mask exemptions for students since the beginning of the school year, representing 2.69% of student enrollment. There have been 16 mask exemptions granted for staff.

Dr. Jackson also shared, based on statistics provided by the County Health Department, that there has been a spike in cases of COVID-19 across the state in ages birth to 17 years. The week of Aug. 22, there were 9,645 confirmed COVID-19 cases in that age group in North Carolina.

The majority of speakers Tuesday were against the mask mandate, claiming they had data to prove masks aren’t effective and that the school system was over-quarantining students. Many were also against vaccinations, saying they feared the government would soon be forcing vaccines on their families.

Many of the nearly 80 people attending the meeting did not wear masks, and at times the board chairman and a law enforcement officer on hand in case of trouble had to calm the unruly crowd down. Some called on board members to resign if they wouldn’t make masks optional. Several hundred additional people attended the meeting virtually.

Carteret County school board votes 5-2 to keep mask mandate in place until October

Parents show their support for making masks optional in county schools during the County Board of Education meeting Tuesday in the auditorium of Morehead City Primary School. (Cheryl Burke photo)

Board member Katie Statler, who was not able to attend the Aug. 18 meeting when the board voted to make masks mandatory for the first two weeks of school, said in a prepared statement she and other board members who voted for the mask mandate have received threats.

“We’ve been cursed at. Called cowards. Others have had their full-time jobs threatened,” she said at the beginning of the meeting.

During the public comment time, Amy Merrell, a mother of two at Newport Elementary School, said, “I make the health choices for my children. There is no association between the mask mandates in use and the number of infections. Masks are making our children unhealthy.”

Dr. Leslie Richardson, a pediatrician for more than 30 years, supported the mask mandate, saying not only are masks effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, so are vaccines.

“For many years we’ve learned the use of protective gear, including masks, work. I’ve seen numerous children getting various vaccines that have helped," she said. "I have children in my office everyday with developmental disabilities, and they tolerate the masks.”

While several speakers said there have been as many, if not more, flu-related deaths as COVID-19 deaths, Dr. Jackson presented state statistics provided by the County Health Department to the contrary.

“Reported N.C. COVID-19 deaths in the past 16 months are 14,468,” he said. “Reported N.C. influenza deaths in the past 10 years are 1,275.”

Following public comment, Mr. Whitford shared about the legal ramifications if the board votes to make masks optional and a student or staff member, or a family member of either, were to become sick with the virus and were hospitalized or died.

Mr. Whitford said the N.C. Commission for Public Health has the authority to adopt control measures to prevent the spread of communicable disease. The commission has adopted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as its recommended control measures, and those measures are included in the state’s StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit. The toolkit sets out the safety guidelines schools must follow.

“If the school system doesn’t follow the control measures authorized by the commission and someone gets very sick or dies, the school system is exposing itself to enhanced liability,” Mr. Whitford said. “Most school systems don’t carry traditional liability insurance.”

Ultimately, Mr. Whitford said if someone were to get sick or die because of the school system not following required safety protocols, “paying damages can end up on the shoulders of taxpayers.”

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

(previous report) 

Editor's note: This article was updated at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, to include a full report.

MOREHEAD CITY — After listening to parents speak for and against mask mandates, the Carteret County Board of Education voted 5-2 Tuesday evening to keep requiring masks in schools at least until the next board meeting in October.

Onslow County Manager Sharon Russell talks with Lockwood Phillips on Coastal Daybreak about area schools, COVID and masks.

The decision came during the BOE's regular meeting Tuesday in the multipurpose room of Morehead City Primary School. The board previously voted 4-2 on Aug. 18 to require students, staff and visitors wear face masks inside all public school buildings for at least the first two weeks of the school year.

BOE members Travis Day and Kathryn Chadwick voted against continuing the mask mandate.

This is a developing report.

(24) comments

Big Fat Drunk Republican

I watched the Facebook video feed and I gotta tell ya, that Travis Day guy is a genius. We think alike.

I like the way he uses his opinion over facts, I mean, I mean how many times did others have to say I can’t believe you said that out loud.

I often hear that from friends and family when I talk too, they tell me often “I can’t believe you said that out loud”. Or “that was not a very intelligent thing to say”. But I just look at them and go about my business of saying what feels and sounds right.

LoggedIn

Please don’t base your opinion of him on this issue alone. He’s only using the opportunity as a political move. I honestly have no idea which call on masks is right nor would I want to be the one making that decision but I promise you, Travis Day is no genius and he could care less what affects anyone’s children except his own and those of his good ol’ boy network of small town corrupt pocket liners! Saddam Hussein was also a big champion of education and even started a literacy program…Hitler started a public campaign to ban smoking…Ted Bundy helped people on a suicide hotline… Extreme examples, yes, and I’m not saying he’s equivalent to any of those evil men but I was making a point. So, please check the ulterior motive before deciding Travis Day is a genius or cares about all the students.

Always A Teacher

Wow...hard to believe parents don't want to up the level of protection for their kids? Do you ride around without seat belts? Do you walk across the street without looking? I guess you don't want your surgeon or nurses wearing masks during surgery? More delta variant...just what we need...I guess that's one way to reduce class size. Pure stupidity...follow the science/medicine, people. Sorry, but I, for one, always advocated for safety and wanted to protect my kids. Wearing a mask is NO BIG DEAL! My 3 year old grandson wears one. Why? Because we love him and WANT to protect him!

drewski

5 to 2 vote. Masks are unpopular locally, as can be seen in the photo.

Kudos to 5 of the school board members who took a stand for common sense and everyone's safety. The other two might be sincere in their beliefs, but shouldn't they have erred on the side of caution where our kids and their families are concerned?

moreheadmom

The lady who was quoting qanon theories about the CEO of Pfizer not taking the vaccine was a treat as well. Who can argue with such well thought out arguments about the safety of our teachers and students?

4thePeople

Remember chicken pox parties? I don't want my kids wearing masks anymore. Pre-Covid they would come home during the start of school with snot running down their faces, but no longer. The masks are blocking our children's ability to combat and build strong immune systems. Get vaccinated if you're able, but let the young develop natural immunity to the thousands of viruses out there already.

Here we go again!

So many clowns -

Always A Teacher

The masks are blocking our children's ability to combat and build strong immune systems. WHAT??????????????????? Just WOW..... Develop natural immunity or die...this your choice. And you are making it for YOUR kid. Sorry, but I want to protect my kids. This isn't a cold. Much more virulent.

(Edited by staff.)

quicksand

Would it not be possible to separate the students by mask or no mask? Mandatory masks on the bus, but not necessarily anywhere else…

dc

If you are going to be really cautious why wouldn't you also require face shields? If there was a suit would you be saved by requiring masks only?

David Collins

Both sides are becoming a bit unhinged over this dilemma . Some might change their minds if their signature was on the decision paperwork for all to see and remember . The decision to take the moral high ground is understandable . This whole Covid thing is beyond sad and unfortunate . Sadly , it appears no one has any absolute answers yet . Doubt they ever will , politics .

drewski

If you watch the national news, you will see children are being hospitalized, not in great numbers, but they are ending up in icu, That being said, lines have been drawn in the political sand and until its your child politics seem to be trumping common sense ( pun intended).

Hester

Kids go into stores and restaurants all day long on weekends and after school. What is lacking is consistency. Parents for masks are scared and want their kids safe. Parents against masks are against them because children are held hostage against their childhood- they are told to beware their classmates but can get done with school and head right to the playground. What is the answer? Parents who are against control of their children should realize school =lack of control. You hand them off. Homeschool. There is a wonderful nature school in the county as well.

drewski

You are right consistency is lacking. between school with a mask and after school with friends. (kids are after all kids and feel immortal) It is also lacking between states. if you look at the data red states have lower vac rates, higher infection rates. and more deaths. That is what comes of making a public health issue into a political one. There are principles worth dying or becoming sick or permanently injured for, Everyone needs to decide for themselves what those are. For me, masks, hand washing, avoiding crowds, and vaccinations just haint it.

dc

Is this like the right to choose? Go back and look what they said about vaccination mandate and it being voluntary . So, open borders are no problem fighting the virus? You may lose your job but Fauci still has his. Masks in schools may make sense but does a lot of other statements and issues surrounding the China virus make sense?

drewski

With covid testing available virtually everywhere, from walmart to stadiums to home test kits. i find it extremely unbelievable that "open borders" hoards of untested asylum seekers are being released untested & bused in the dark of night to a city near you. I do not doubt this has been said over and over on certain media outlets. Now about that bridge in Brooklyn, any offers?

Benelli

Let's see, pediatrician of over 30 years with actual facts vs QAnon Mom with stuff she found on Facebook. Thank you to the school board for retaining common sense in the middle of a room full of hot air. At the rate we are going we are only a couple weeks from some of the schools having too many teachers sick or quarantined to teach. Subs tend to be older and don't want to be around a room full of covid. I'd say these parents who hate the government telling them what to do should home school their kids, but that would be a disservice to their kids, and ensure another generation without critical thinking skills.

Osprey

Trying to make an educated argument with a misspelling on her sign.

moreheadmom

hahahahahahahahahaha That is funny

dc

Believe the board voted and it's a done deal for short term but likely will continue so no worry there. Personally know only two older folks who haven't been vaccined. Know a 62 year-old who is both a cancer and brain stem stroke survivor. He followed vaccines with hydroxy and related regime. So far so good. Anyone know why treatments have been resisted by "vaccine only" pushers? Why is WHO not in favor of the booster yet? Surely the open border is completely safe because JB is in charge. You can trust him and underlings. LOL.

dc

"Are the vaccines driving the delta variant?" By Andy Zhao. Any you medical experts want to take this one on?

drewski

There is a reason drug trials use large numbers of people of different demographics. Suggesting widespread results from anecdotal evidence of a single incidence is both foolish and dangerous.

It is the same old story, expert advice that has a higher probality of being correct, or some home brew " cure" from some random person. Choose wisely.

dc

"Biden does not require migrants at the border to get vaccinated despite mandate for Americans" by Anna Giaritelli. Are you sure? Guess so.

dc

"The War Over Face Masks Meets School Choice" by Susan Pendergrass.

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