September 27th, 2019
School board says yes to mask mandate
MON. | 08-23-21 | NEWS
SAT. | 10-10-20 | NEWS
The Board of Education hosted a meeting on Monday Aug. 16 and decided in a 6-2 majority vote to make masks mandatory for all students and faculty in all Pitt County school buildings and buses effective Aug. 17.
Before the Board allowed members to vote for the decision regarding masks on school property, some members voiced their opinions on the potential mandate.
The first point of view was presented by District 6 Representative Worth Forbes. Forbes proposed the idea that masks should be optional, citing his belief that decisions should be made by “parents, not politicians”. Forbes additionally argued that young children may have difficulty wearing their masks properly for long periods of time, though this ultimately did not pose a major issue during the previous school year. It was also brought to attention that based on healthcare professionals’ testimonies, children have a strong natural immunity to COVID-19 and are likely not as susceptible to the virus. Board members also voiced concerns that masks may gather bacteria and viral particles and become unhygienic.
“I believe that kids being able to see faces and mouths is important for social development; language learning also,” Forbes said. “Parents know their children more than [the Board members] do,... they know the emotional and social
Graphic by William Becker
aspects and impacts wearing a mask may have on their child… so it is important they have the final say-so over their own children.”
In favor of mandating masks, District 5 Representative Anna Barrett Smith was the first to speak. She argued that, based on the testimonies and evidence of health experts who were invited to speak during the meeting, in-person school is not possible without masks as COVID-19 transmission will be significantly higher and likely put many students in quarantine. Colleagues argued that healthcare professionals are the experts to look to regarding the decision over mask mandates, as parents and teachers want to keep children in school. They proposed that a mandate is the best method to ensure that this happens.
Taking a different point of view from the same solution, District 7 Representative Caroline Doherty focused on how virtual learning is damaging to students both socially and mentally. She additionally voiced concerns over parental responsibility, arguing that despite parents’ concerns for their own children, they are nevertheless responsible for others as well due to the close-knit nature of school communities.
“I think a lot of harm was done last year by remote learning… it’s not just academic progress, but also social impacts to our students being forced to learn remotely,” Doherty said. “I feel like [mandating masks] is the responsible thing to do to keep our school system and everyone who works in it, visits, and attends school as protected as we can until our transmission numbers go down substantially.”
In line with Doherty’s concerns, District 4 Representative Don Rhodes expressed his opinion that virtual learning must be avoided if at all possible due to the damage it may inflict on students’ lives. To support his standpoint, Rhodes cites the concerns of an ER nurse that were recently voiced to him. The nurse described the growing number of children they have seen admitted to the emergency room with acute COVID-19 symptoms, which forced them to realize the potential danger unmasked students could face.
This decision of mandating masks on school property is not the only noteworthy decision regarding this upcoming school year. Another major verdict is that all students must attend school in person if they have not been exposed to or contracted COVID-19. If a student wishes to not go to school in person, they have the option to attend Pitt County Virtual Academy (PCVA) or North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) for the duration of the school year. In-person students will not have the option to switch to virtual learning once the school year has begun unless they are placed under quarantine. Teachers will be required to maintain their Canvas courses for students under quarantine, and will also have the option to run Zoom for these students, though it is not required. Another policy is that if students are exposed to COVID-19 but both parties are wearing a mask at the time of exposure, the uninfected student(s) will not be required to quarantine. These new enforcements were made to maintain the safety of students and faculty and keep schools open to in-person learning for the duration of the school year.