Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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BEHIND THE VOTE – ABSS school board votes 6-1 to lift mask mandate immediately

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Alamance-Burlington school board members 6-1 Tuesday afternoon to make masks optional in all ABSS facilties, effective immediately.

“The Alamance County health director [Tony Lo Giudice] has confirmed that he does now, indeed, recommend mask-optional for our district due to recent trends and conditions,” school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves said at the outset of a special-called meeting Tuesday afternoon.

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper encouraged schools and local governments last week to lift their mask mandates, though he urged the state’s public school systems to keep the mandates in place until Friday, March 7.

Lo Giudice also confirmed prior to the school board’s special-called meeting that Alamance County’s current positivity rate is 13 percent, said Ellington-Graves.  “In regards to the March 7 date that was identified by Gov. Cooper, he noted there’s no data point or scientific threshold tied to that date.”

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However, a separate requirement for masks to be worn on school buses will remain in place due to federal regulations.

School board member Tony Rose, who had previously been a part of the 4-3 majority that insisted on keeping masks, made the motion to remove masks immediately, except for transportation, in all ABSS facilities, drawing a loud round of applause from the approximately two dozen people who attended the special-called meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Rose’s motion passed 6-1, with Wayne Beam, Ryan Bowden, Ellington-Graves, Allison Gant, Rose, and Donna Westbrooks voting in favor.  School board vice chairman Patsy Simpson, who participated in the special meeting by phone, cast the lone vote against lifting the mask mandate in ABSS schools.

Several audience members later objected loudly to the exception that will continue to require face coverings to be worn on school buses.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued an order requiring masks to be worn – regardless of vaccination status – on all public conveyances, including school buses, the board’s chairman explained Tuesday afternoon.

Many of the ABSS parents and other audience members carried signs opposing the mask mandate: “It’s All About Control,” “Freedom from Medical Tyranny,” and “Choice, Not Mandate” read some of them.

Fewer than half of the state’s 115 public school systems are still requiring face masks to be worn inside school buildings, according to multiple news reports.

As of Friday, 51 school systems had mask mandates, and 64 school systems were mask-optional, according to the North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA).  Twenty-three public school systems adopted mask-optional policies between February 11 and February 18, according to the NCSBA.

In nearby and surrounding counties, Guilford County school board members voted Monday night to make face masks optional in school buildings, effective immediately.

The Orange County school board voted Monday night to lift the mask mandate for schools once Orange County’s commissioners rescind a county-wide universal indoor mask mandate.  Orange County’s commissioners have not yet signaled when they might do so.

Chatham County schools announced it will make masks optional in schools, starting March 7, in keeping with the governor’s suggested timeframe.

Meanwhile, school board members in the state’s two largest public school systems, Wake County public schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, were also scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to lift their mask mandates.

All North Carolina public school systems have been required to vote monthly on whether to require face masks in schools, under legislation that the General Assembly passed and the governor signed last August.

ABSS school board members had consistently voted 4-3 to require face coverings in schools and on buses since the school year began in August.  School board members Ryan Bowden, Sandy Ellington-Graves, and Donna Westbrooks have consistently voted against the requirement; board members Wayne Beam, Allison Gant, and Tony Rose have consistently voted against.

Subsequent legislation passed by the General Assembly last month, the “Free the Smiles Act,” would leave it to parents to decide whether their children should wear masks in schools.  That bill, which passed the state house 76-42 and the senate 28-17, was forwarded to the governor last Thursday.

Students, teachers, and visitors will be allowed to continue to wear a mask if they choose but there will be no requirement that they do so in ABSS facilities and/or on school property.

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