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Haywood School Board reverses course, mandates masks

Haywood School Board reverses course, mandates masks

At an emergency meeting Saturday, the Haywood County School Board voted 5-2 to mandate masks and enact a plan that will adjust masking policy based on the weekly averages of positive COVID-19 cases. 

The decision came after a tumultuous first week of the 2021-22 school year. Due to flooding from Tropical Storm Fred, school was only in session the first two days of the week. According to Public Health Director Sarah Henderson, after just two days of in-person instruction, three positive COVID-19 cases at Tuscola High School resulted in over 60 students and staff having to quarantine. One positive case at Waynesville Middle School resulted in 27 people quarantining, a case at Hazelwood Elementary meant 25 people in quarantine, 12 students had to quarantine after one positive case at a Kinder Camp in Clyde and as of Saturday evening, there were 19 students in quarantine from Bethel Elementary. 

The board held a lengthy discussion with Henderson and Haywood County Medical Director Dr. Mark Jaben. Chairman Chuck Francis asked Henderson directly whether these high quarantine numbers could have been avoided with the requirement of a face covering. 

“Yes sir. If our students were in a setting where everyone was universally masked, meaning that everybody in the class were masked, those who are positive would be isolated, but the other students in the class would not be considered close contacts. So the remainder of those classes would have been able to go back to face-to-face instruction as long as they were wearing face coverings,” said Henderson. 

When masks were optional for students in Haywood County Schools, teachers were expected to make seating charts to determine where students were in the classroom, especially in relation to a possible COVID-19 positive peer, and whether or not they were wearing a mask. Because school had just begun, many teachers had not had the chance to create seating charts or get them to administration. At that point, according to Henderson, a larger swath of students had to be considered a close contact. 

“We have received some seating charts from teachers, but we’re finding that a lot of students are in classrooms where there isn’t a seating chart. At that point you have to err on the side of caution,” said Henderson. 

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In addition to mandating masks, the board laid out a plan that adjusts masking policy based upon weekly averages of positive COVID-19 cases, called the “Stop Slow Go” plan. The plan uses a traffic light concept with required masking on the “red” light, optional masking on the “yellow” light and mask free on the “green light.”  The formula is based upon the average number of new positive cases per day on a weekly basis. 

Haywood County Schools will be in the “red” when there are more than six new cases per day on a seven day rolling average. In order to move to the “yellow,” there must be three weeks of less than six new cases per day. Schools will be in the “yellow,” meaning masks are optional, when there are less than six new cases per day on a seven day rolling average. In order to move to the “green,” there must be three weeks of one new case per day or less. Schools will be in the “green,” meaning mask free, when there is less than one new case per day on a seven day rolling average. 

Board member Bobby Rogers, who previously opposed a mask mandate in Haywood County Schools, noted the importance of having guidelines to know when masks would be required in schools, and when they would be optional. 

“To me, when you’ve got yard lines and end zones and a scoreboard, it allows you to put politics aside. This is all about keeping children in school, giving them the best learning opportunity available. In that regard, I think it gives us a way to keep track, keep score and know where we’re at on the field,” said Rogers. 

Currently, Haywood County Schools is at the required masking or “Mask Up” level.  When the county is at the required masking level, masks are required indoors for all students, staff and visitors. Masks are required outdoors when social distancing is not possible. 

“We appreciate the work and collaboration of our public health partners in developing this case-based masking plan,” said Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte. “Using this plan should help reduce isolations and quarantines for students and staff. This should keep more of us in in-person learning which is important for academic success and social-emotional well-being.”

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper made masks a local decision when the state mandate expired on July 31. At that time, following input from parents and a recommendation from Haywood County Health Officials that masks be mandated, the Haywood County School Board voted to make masks optional . Just a few weeks later, the board issued a statement strongly recommending students wear masks in school. Now, the board has officially reversed its decision and mandated masks for students and staff. 

“Our first priority is the safety of our students, faculty, and staff as they continue to participate in in-person learning. We recognize that the situation is ever-changing and we have to overcome and adapt,” said Henderson. “Adopting this plan allows us to see the progress in our community and adjust as needed. This plan gives us an end goal and something to work toward.”

The decision created a rare split vote among board members with David Burnette and Larry Henson voting against the motion to require masks and enact the plan that adjusts masking policy based on weekly averages of positive cases. School board member Logan Nesbitt made the motion to require masks at this time, which was seconded by Rogers. 

“My goal is to keep kids in the school and in-person learning,” said Francis. “We saw what a challenge it was to not have them in school. And this ‘stop, slow, go’ will give us an opportunity to at least have an end game to get us back to what we used to call somewhat normal.” 

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2 comments

  • It’s sad that ANY parental input should be considered when deciding whether to mask schools, rather than strictly listening to medical professionals. Parental input played no role in previous school board orders for inoculations, from Polio through MMR and Meningococcal vaccines, so why should the board now pay attention to parents who have no education in science or medical research whatsoever?
    School boards should only be following the advice of the Public Health and County Medical Directors.
    The school board should realize that the vast majority of parents are pro-mask since the science shows blatantly that masks protect our children and our families. All we have to do is look at the case numbers of states that have blocked mask mandates compared to states with mandates and see that the states refusing mandates have much higher infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths than a those of us who are smart enough to protect our children with a simple mask. It’s really no different than requiring our kids to wear shoes to protect their feet and have tetanus shots.

    And no, “quartermaster “, the CDC has never said that masking accomplishes nothing. You really need to study the CDC’s statements and truly research what doctors and scientists are saying rather than only accepting your misinformation as gospel from conspiracy sources Newsmax and Marjorie Taylor-Greene. If you’re too busy to do the research, then ask your family doctor and your children’s pediatrician. After all, we trust them because that’s what they went to school for!

    posted by Angela Kelz

    Saturday, 09/18/2021

  • This is sad. The CDC has admitted masking accomplishes nothing, yet people keep going down the road of idiocy.

    posted by Quartermaster

    Sunday, 08/22/2021

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