September 27th, 2019
Pitt County goes mask optional
SAT. | 02-26-22 | NEWS
The Pitt County School Board voted to make masks optional effective Tuesday, Feb. 15. This new policy applies to students and staff at all schools in the county.
The board voted for the mask optional policy on Monday, Feb. 7 and resulted in a 7-1 decision, passing the mask optional policy. Masks will still be required on school buses as part of a federal mandate order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Shortly after students went on winter break in December, the school board had voted to go mask optional. In January, however, before students returned to school from winter break, the Pitt County School Board voted to reinstate the mask policy due to the
Photo by Elliott Flinchbaugh
spike in COVID cases, especially the Omicron variant. According to the NC COVID-19 dashboard, at the time of the Feb. 7 meeting, North Carolina had reported the lowest number of COVID cases and hospitalizations in about six weeks.
Many parents spoke during the public expression section of the meeting regarding the mask mandate.
“By making them optional, you leave that choice in the hands of the parents,” said one J.H. Rose parent.
At this meeting, board member Benjie Forrest made a motion to go mask optional effective immediately, but board member Anna Barrett Smith made an amendment to the motion. The amendment would rule that the new mask optional policy would begin Feb. 15 to allow time for a new testing program to become fully effective.
The Board approved a “test to stay” program which will be optional for students. Participants who have been exposed to COVID will be tested at pre-specified times following the initial known exposure. This program will allow for students and staff to stay in school following exposure, as long as they are asymptomatic, wear a mask for 10 days following exposure and continue to test negative on repeated rapid antigen tests that are conducted in schools.
The Pitt County School system said that the testing program should be serviceable by Feb. 15. A contract was approved by the board that will bring in around 15 extra staff members to facilitate the new testing program. The board hopes that this program will keep students in school while also assisting the county in keeping COVID cases down.
“It’s not even about if masks are effective or not anymore for me; it’s about keeping kids in school [and] keeping teachers in school,” Smith said. “If we can do something, and if this testing program can help reduce the quarantines, then I am in favor of that.”