Carteret school board reverses course, will require masks for first 2 weeks of school

Cheryl Pigott of Morehead City wears an anti-mask t-shirt as she speaks during a Carteret County Board of Education meeting held Wednesday in the media center of East Carteret High School to discuss a mask mandate for public schools. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — After hearing from about 20 impassioned parents and students who favored keeping masks optional in public schools, as well as presentations by county and state health officials, the Carteret County Board of Education voted 4-2 Wednesday to make masks mandatory for the first two weeks of the school year.

The mandate will take effect Thursday, Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson said following the meeting, held in the media center of East Carteret High School.

The board will revisit the decision during its next meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7.

“I move that we make masks mandatory until our next board meeting. I hope we’ll be able to get rid of them. I hate masks too,” school board member Dennis Goodwin said in forwarding the matter to a vote.

Brittany Wheatly seconded, with John McLean and Chairperson Clark Jenkins voting in favor. Board members Travis Day and Kathryn Chadwick voted against the mandate. Board member Katie Statler attended the first part of the meeting virtually, but had to leave early and did not vote.

Board members asked Dr. Jackson to provide data at the next board meeting showing the number of positive COVID-19 cases and number of students and staff quarantined during the first two weeks of school.

With the recent spike in cases in the county, Dr. Jackson said there are currently 55 school staff members and 33 students in quarantine. That includes 17 staff members who tested positive.

Teachers officially returned to work Aug. 11. Students report back for classes Monday.

Following the meeting, Dr. Jackson said he didn’t have the count on how many of the quarantined students tested positive.

“Students may have gotten the virus from other places or during school-related events, I just don’t know. We will start posting our COVID numbers again on our website each Friday once schools open,” he said.

Although the board did not originally plan to allow public comment during the special meeting, Mr. Day asked that the agenda be amended to allow comments. Ms. Chadwick seconded and the motion passed, with Mr.  Goodwin opposing.

Many who spoke had prepared speeches and held signs protesting masks. There were also brief outbursts from some parents during the meeting, including when board members were discussing the matter after public comment ended.

Masks will be required during the school day, but will not be mandatory during athletic and extra-curricular activities.

Carteret school board reverses course, will require masks for first 2 weeks of school

Carteret County Board of Education member John McLean shares his views on a mask mandate for students while board members, left, Brittany Wheatly, and, right, Travis Day, listen during a meeting Wednesday in the media center of East Carteret High School to discuss a mask mandate. (Cheryl Burke photo)

Students who have medical or behavioral issues due to the masks will not be required to wear them, according to school officials and the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Tookit, which provides guidance on COVID-19 safety protocols in public schools across the state.

N.C. Health Director Dr. Betsy Tilson, who attended the meeting virtually, and Carteret County Health Director Nina Oliver, who attended in person, both recommended students in grades kindergarten through 12 wear masks, based on the rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

“The virus is spread in respiratory droplets from nose and mouth,” Ms. Oliver said. “By covering the nose and mouth, you are decreasing the amount of respiratory droplets coming out of that person — source control.

“Because we do know that people can spread even without symptoms, wearing a mask even when you do not have symptoms is important,” she continued. “While the different studies on masks have some limitations, when you look at the aggregate data and the totality of our experience this year, masks do decrease the spread of the virus in a population.”

Ms. Oliver said due to the highly contagious nature of the delta variant, there has been a 1,207% increase in active COVID-19 cases in the county from July 19 to Aug. 17. The county’s percent of positivity rate for the week of Aug. 8-14 is at 14.3%, while the state’s positivity rate is 13.5%. The state’s goal is a 5% positivity rate.

Dr. Tilson said while it’s been left up to local school boards to make the final decision, state health officials are recommending universal indoor masking.

Many parents attending the meeting said there was not enough data to support assertions masks prevent the spread of the virus. Several, like Stephanie Krzich, a parent with four children in the school system, said she believed masks should be optional “for the health, safety and medically developmental and emotional health of students. There is evidence that masks left on long term can cause additional health risks.”

Following the meeting, parent Cheryl Pigott of Morehead City, who has one daughter in the school system, said she was disappointed with the board’s decision.

“It’s really hard for kids to focus in class with masks on,” she said. “It’s debilitating, but I understand why they are doing it.”

After hearing parent comments and health officials, board members had a heated debate over mask requirements and quarantining. Finally, Mr. Goodwin made the motion to make masks mandatory the first two weeks of school, pointing to the rapid spread of cases in Florida and Texas, where mandatory mask requirements in schools have been banned by state officials.

“There are four school districts shut down in Texas as of 9 p.m. yesterday,” Mr. Goodwin said. “They were shut down because somebody got COVID.”

Carteret school board reverses course, will require masks for first 2 weeks of school

Parents opposed to masks in public schools hold signs as they listen during a special meeting Wednesday of the Carteret County Board of Education, which voted 4-2 for mandatory masks the first two weeks of the school year. (Cheryl Burke photo)

Ms. Wheatly seconded his motion, saying she understood the frustration over wearing masks, but, “We’re trying to keep our kids in school and keep everyone safe.”

Mr. Day, who adamantly opposed the mask mandate, said he felt data didn’t support the need for masks in schools, saying there have only been four deaths in those 0 to 17 years of age in the state since the start of the pandemic.

He further said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ quarantine requirements were excessive. He suggested lowering the social distancing requirement from 6 feet to 3 feet when considering those who have been exposed to positive cases in schools.

He also pointed out the StrongsSchoolsNC toolkit was amended earlier to allow for exceptions for quarantining if both students are masked or vaccinated, as well as other exceptions.

Ms. Oliver said she would be willing to work with schools as the need arises.

“Do your best to social distance as much as possible,” she said.

Dr. Jackson pointed out the school system is bound to follow the StrongSchoolsNC toolkit, which in most cases states anyone who has been within 6 feet of an exposed person for 15 minutes should be quarantined. There are exceptions if masks are worn and if the individual has been vaccinated.

Board members vented frustration over the quarantining protocols that have tied their hands.

“I hate masks,” Mr. McLean said, “but I am terrified about closing down our schools.”

Ms. Chadwick, too, said she’s frustrated over the quarantine requirements that in some cases leads to an entire class being quarantined when one student tests positive.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” she said.

Dr. Jackson said in some cases an entire class doesn’t have to quarantine, depending on the situation surrounding the exposure.

Mr. Jenkins said he, too, was frustrated the board faced a tough call between requiring masks and quarantine now or possibly reverting entirely to remote learning in the future.

“I can tell you virtual (learning) was an abysmal failure because of the nature of it. My daughter struggled and I don’t want to go back there. I am willing to put a mask on her for two weeks if it will keep our kids in school,” he said. “This is not political. This is about my daughter and son and your daughters and sons staying school.”

The board also unanimously approved providing for students to quarantine for seven days in certain cases. The CDC requires students to quarantine either, seven, 10 or 14 days, depending on circumstances. The school district last year had opted to do away with the seven-day quarantine because of the demand it put on school nurses and employees when it came to contact tracing.

 

Reporter's note: This article was last updated to include additional art at 5:38 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.  

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

(21) comments

ReallyConcerned

The fear mongering prevails again. Masks for the first 2 weeks of school until the next board meeting. Thank you Mr Day and Mrs Chadwick for trying to stand up for our kids. Unfortunately you were out voted and maybe your companions will be voted out in their next election.

Dak

If not wearing a mask is so important to you, feel free to keep your kids at home. If that is your opinion, the rest of our kids are likely safer not being exposed to them.

quicksand

Does “fear mongering”=highest number hospitalized with Covid currently?

Birdman94

I racked my brain trying to figure out how they’d keep themselves from having to make a firm decision that would make anyone really mad. So now everyone on both sides of this polarizing issue is just kind of sort of sad/tired/frustrated. Should we have expected less from pseudo politicians under the advisement of lawyers? Very Solomon-esque of you.

BananaThis

I watched the meeting online. Mr Day and Mrs Chadwick, you guys are rock stars! You truly understand how people feel and truly understand the “numbers and statistics”. Thank you for fighting so hard. It is truly appreciated. Fear has won once again. Why not try optional masks for the first two weeks cause we all see where this is going. It will be mandated for the rest of the year. I get the whole number of students quarantined idea…

I really do… but changing course 4 days before school starts is wrong and you really pissed off a lot of people!

Dak

Why? Is 4 days insufficient amount of time to locate a mask? I really don't get the "not enough time!" argument.

morehood city res

what's wrong with masks? wouldn't your doctor advise you to wear one if you were not vaccinated against covid 19? the same doctor you trusted when they delivered your baby, the same one you trusted that prescribed antibiotics when you had an infection, the same doctor you trusted that treated your cancer or helped you mend a broken limb? talk to your doctor, see what they have to say. if you can't wear a mask for medical reasons then maybe they can get you or your child a note.

morehood city res

ask your doctor what they would recommend for unvaccinated adults/children. you do trust YOUR doctor don't you? or is he/she working for the government as well? nah noo nah noo, come in mork, do you read me, how are things on ork

BananaThis

My doctor actually told me to NOT wear a mask. They are other People out there that were Told the same thing. I love how people think they know everything.

quicksand

Oh, do tell! A local physician recommended to NOT wear a mask? Follow the money-to the intensive care unit? What?

mpjeep

My Morehead City doctor actually told me Not to get the vaccine for at least 3 years and not to wear a mask. Her office has been around quite some time with several doctors on board.

I got the shot anyway, but don't wear a mask often.

enc34

What is the name of youre doctor? Dr. Mengele?

Big Fat Drunk Republican

It’s pretty easy to tell who pronounces America as AMurica is this thread.

If I want fear mongering , I just tune into 96.3 or 107.1 radio.

drewski

I wonder how some folks put their stake in the culture wars over masks and vaccines over the health and well-being of their and others children?

David Collins

Doctors ,smoctors . They all have differing opinions .

The school board just wants to C Y A on this one , pure and simple . Like it or lump it , just the way it goes . Deal with their decision any way your heart desires but your decision is yours and decisions have consequences .

A National Mandate may soon be coming if things don’t look up . Be prepared , if anyone can be prepared for such a thing . There is a loose cannon like no other at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave primed and ready .

enc34

Vaccines don't work. Masks don't work. Prayers obvuously have not been working. Exactly what do you people want to have happen? Cases are going up. Hospitals are being overun. Health care workers are exhausted. If the trend continues, you better not have a heart attack or get in a car accident because there may be no room for you. Better yet, all you anti-maskers and antivaxxers should just go home and let nature take its course should you become infected with covid. As for fear mongering, I suspect many antivamaskers carry a firearm regularly to defend your yourself. Why. Because you fear being attacked and losing your life. Masks and vaccines are jsut another means of self defense. I am sure all you gun toters would cry to hihg heaven at any pervieved infringement on your right to self defense but you ahave no problem denying others that same right. And exactly how do you make this a religious issue? (Righteous requires courage? You are just making up religious doctrine to suit your selfishness. The Taliban would be proud of you.

pops

enc34 - I like your take on natural selection. I know that's not a proper Christian attitude, but I often feel that way. As for the Christian interpretation, I am reminded of the tempting of Jesus, where the devil told Him: "Just jump. A legion of angels will catch you before your heel strikes the ground." To which Jesus replied "It is written: Thou shalt not put the Lord, thy God, to the test."

My contemporary interpretation is: "Don't do stupid sh.. and expect God to bail you out."

While there may be a few individuals with legitimate concerns, the noisy anti crowd must, by now, begin to face their own mortality. Its a shame they're willing to send their children and grandchildren to the grave with them. Freedom indeed!

Perhaps I have been raised with less freedom. Masks don't bother me. For years, I have used them: with wood working and construction, to protect myself from silica, plywood glue, evergreen dust and insulation. Masked mowing in the spring to reduce pollen - making the job much more comfortable and considerably reducing the after effects. Wearing the big rubber get-ups with organic vapor cartridges when spraying certain paints and chemicals. A face shield or safety glasses for the more hazardous shop operations. (Learned the hard way, with minor eye surgery and buffing following a most improbable turn of events. As Rick Mears set a new Indy qualifying record, his wash sent a metal splinter into my left eye, seated about 20 rows back from the wall - and while wearing my regular glasses!)

All depends on your definition of freedom. Masks free me to work, with whatever materials I need, in otherwise prohibitive environments. Free to see and breathe, free to live a happy, productive, and hopefully long life. But I suppose there's also freedom to do stupid sh..!

dc

It would also be a great help not to have idiots distributing infected illegal aliens throughout the country.

EnlightenedCentrist

Remote learning is the safe option, putting masks on while stuffing a bunch of people in a small space will not work.

Birdman94

CDC reported 45 Million Seasonal Flu cases for the 2017-2018 Flu season. CDC reports over the entirety of COVIDs duration 37 Million cases. In three times as many months no less. And to date COVID has still taken less lives of 0-17 year olds than that flu season.

There was no panic then and there shouldn’t be now. Let’s not muddy the issue. This isn’t about protecting the kids. This decision was about contact tracing. Masks keep them from having to do that. Which keeps school open. This is a problem caused by state guidance that our board and their legal advisors were unwilling to buck. They went the way of Solomon.

Exercising your voting rights matters.

change is ok

During the time period you gave there were 61,000 deaths caused by the flu for perspective COVID is responsible for over 627,000. That is the difference, its not just about the number of cases total or the number of deaths for those under the age of 18. Wearing masks helps slow the spread of the virus and other contagions it has been proven. What does it hurt? how can it be a bad thing to take a little precaution that may help slow the spread? I dont like being told that i have to do something but i can at least understand that its the decent thing to do as a human being to do my part to help slow the spread and help get the numbers moving in the right direction.

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