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I-SS Board votes to keep current mask mandate in place
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I-SS Board votes to keep current mask mandate in place

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The Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education voted Monday night to keep in place the current mask mandate in schools.

Required by the state to review masking in schools every month, discussion of the topic began Monday night when Bill Howell made a motion to return the school system to mask optional.

“Over the last months, I’ve gotten hundreds of emails. I’ve gotten emails from parents that want to take masks off and emails from parents that want to put them on. As I’ve thought about this, the one thing that was lacking from the people that wanting to put masks on was the scientific evidence,” Howell said to the board. “I cannot continue to mask our children.”

Howell’s motion was seconded by Bryan Shoemaker to allow for discussion.

During discussion, Shoemaker and other board members indicated they felt the school system was trending in the right direction in regard to COVID and noted that while they did not feel comfortable removing the mask mandate in October, they would seriously consider voting to return to mask optional next month if the cases continued to fall.

Shoemaker noted that while he does not agree that masks are as effective as some say, the school system is currently playing by the rules put in place by the governor and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

The rules Shoemaker noted, are the quarantine requirements given by the NCDHHS, which state that students do not need to quarantine or be excluded from school if they are asymptomatic and face masks were being used appropriately by both the student with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed student.

In a scenario where the individual that tested positive for COVID was not wearing a mask, all those deemed as close contacts would be required to be excluded from school for a 7-day period, thus disrupting face-to-face learning. The quarantine rules currently in place caused the school system to shut down numerous schools and quarantine thousands before instituting the mask mandate.

Howell’s motion failed, as the board voted against 6-1.

Before the discussion of the mask mandate, Superintendent Jeff James brought a resolution to the board to be presented to NCDHHS, with the intent to revise quarantine requirements to attempt to cut down on the mask requirements currently in place.

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The board passed the resolution unanimously, which states that the board would like to be allowed to take the following actions:

1. Redefine “close contact” regarding school-aged children to mean being

within three feet of a positive individual for a period of 15

minutes or more within a 24-hour period, regardless of whether the

student or positive individual are wearing a face covering.

2. Allow asymptomatic students, who are determined to be close contacts to a positive individual, to remain in school by choosing to undergo appropriate diagnostic testing.

3. Provide multiple ways to ensure in-person learning and explore ways to make the use of face coverings more flexible while maintaining appropriate COVID-19 safety precautions.

“The quarantine rules are killing us as an education system,” James said. “Now is the time to learn how we can compromise and have school without masking our kids all day long,” James said. “I think it is doable, but I think the state has to be open to working with citizens and the school board to try some things, collect data and see what can and cannot work. But right now, it is a one-stop shop, you either do it our way or the kids go home.”

James went on to add that the governor and NCDHHS must be open to lines of communication for his district and others in order to find an alternative to what is currently taking place.

“I think it’s time to start having dialogue and figure out how we are going to have school moving forward in a compromise between having to mask kids all day,” James said. “I think the three-foot rule, there is enough room in our classrooms that we can wear masks in crowded areas but when you sit down at desks at least allow the kids to pull their masks off. There has to be a compromise but right now the door has been shut. The governor’s office and NCDHHS need to open it up for districts who are willing to work with them and look at having alternatives to having school without having masks slapped on a kid all day long.”

The board will review the mask mandate currently in place again at next month’s board meeting as required by state law.

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