School board says masks to be optional as schools open

Published 9:45 am Thursday, August 5, 2021

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Masks will be optional for Davie County Schools students when classes begin on Aug. 24, board of education members unanimously decided on Thursday afternoon, July 29.

Students who ride school buses and other transportation provided by the schools will still have to wear masks, although there will be no social distancing requirements on the buses.

The decision will be closely monitored, said Superintendent Jeff Wallace, and if conditions warrant a change, it will be made.

The board had asked Wallace and staff to come up with two recommendations for the board to decide on – one in which masks would be required, and one in which they wouldn’t. Potential outcomes of each decision were also noted.

Board member Lori Smith got applause from those attending the specially called meeting when she expressed her feelings.

“The guidelines and recommendations are constantly changing. The recommendations have been consistently inconsistent … so it’s hard to follow those guidelines.”

Even with the number of COVID cases climbing, they still only represent a small percentage of the population, she said.

“Most important is our students’ interests. The kids have carried the burden of this pandemic at the mercy of politics and science. I feel like we’ve been using our children as pawns in this pandemic. Masks create fear, anxiety, stress … breathing issues.”

She said the board needs to listen to the community, which has been overwhelmingly in favor of lifting the mask mandate.

Smith also quoted a high school teacher, who said too much time was spent last year trying to make students comply with the mask mandate.

While supporting Smith’s statement, board member David Carroll said he is still concerned.

“I am concerned in the depths of my heart about what this virus is and its potential,” Carroll said. “It’s become a political issue as well as a scientific issue and that’s unfortunate. As it concerns children, I only hope that as I support this unmasking, that we really keep a close eye on it, because it’s going to be a tragedy if this Delta (COVID variant)” continues. “Because of that, we need to evaluate within so many weeks. Let’s not hit an iceberg.”

“I want kids back in school, no matter what it takes,” said board member, Cammie Webb. “I am concerned about these kids who choose to wear a mask. I don’t want them bullied, and secondly, I don’t want them to have to lose school time because they’re doing what’s been recommended.”

Board member Dub Potts, participating in the meeting remotely, said: “Davie County has been an example. I am hopeful we will again be an example of how we work through difficult situations while treating one another with dignity and respect.”

“This is not a long-term decision,” Potts said. “Review it frequently; if we have to change it, fine, if we don’t, great.”

Wendy Horne asked the parents wanting the mask mandate lifted to have a conversation with their children about repsecting others and the opinion of others. “We have got to respect other peoples’ opinions or we will end up back in masks if it goes the way so many of you have asked us to do.” No one wins with an “I told you so,” Horne said.

“Our children are going to be watching to see how we treat one another.”

She also had advice for the community. “Adopt a no tolerance policy for anyone who ridicules or bullies anyone for wearing a mask or not wearing a mask.”

Board member Paul Drechsler said it is important for all – students, staff and parents – to support the schools no matter what the decision. “We may have to come back and make another difficult decision. Do the best we can … and we can re-adjust and make a change if we need to.”

“Their work is just beginning,” said board chair, Clint Junker, referring to staff who are now challenged with making the new rules work. At the beginning of the meeting, he urged everyone to treat one another with respect.

Wallace said every year, staff makes it clear to all that a classroom should be a welcoming place for all students. “I want to assure everyone … we have been clear, that classroom has to be inviting for whatever choice you make. It has to, it should be anyway.

“I do think with the compliance of our kids last year, and how they did such a wonderful job, I think it will be OK. I’m not saying there won’t be any problems, you have 6,000 kids there’s going to be problems, but I do believe we will be able to work through that.”

Some of the new guidelines to be implemented:

• social distancing will reduce from six feet to three feet as much as possible;

• visitors and volunteers may be allowed in the building;

• parents may be on campus, but not in the working classroom or cafeteria during lunch;

• PE will be limited as to close-contact sports, with outside exercise encouraged;

• cleaning will be similar if not the same as last year;

• supplies such as hand sanitizer and masks will be available;

• no daily screenings;

• if symptomatic, students or staff should stay at home or could be sent home;

• quarantine times will be different based on mask wearing, vaccinations, and distance one was from an infected person;

• masks must be worn at all times on school buses, although there will be no pre-bus screenings and no social distancing on the buses.

Students in all grades will start with full time in school instruction.