Tuesday, October 26, 2021

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Universal mask requirement stirs spat between school board members, silent protest from parents

Categories:

Much of the discussion at the Alamance-Burlington school board’s special-called meeting Monday afternoon illustrated the growing pushback over whether public officials have a right to intervene in personal healthcare decisions by instituting Covid-19 mask mandates and “vaccine passports” that require proof of vaccination to travel, return to work, or enter certain facilities.

School board members met Monday afternoon to vote on ABSS superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson’s recommendation to require universal masking when the new school year starts on August 23 (see related story, this edition).


See other coverage on the discussion and vote on the mask requirement for the start of the 2021-2022 school year: https://alamancenews.com/breaking-mon-divided-school-board-decides-on-mask-mandate-for-new-school-year/


“I don’t want to see this community get on the hamster wheel that we were on for the past year and a half, when we were discussing the return to school, when we were going back, not going back, leaving everybody in limbo. I don’t want to put our community through that again.”

– school board member ryan bowden

This week’s discussion also represented a return to the confusion that surrounded much of the 2020-21 school year, particularly when it came to deciding whether, and then when, ABSS students might return to their schools, as school board member Ryan Bowden pointed out Monday.

- Advertisement -

“I don’t want to see this community get on the hamster wheel that we were on for the past year and a half, when we were discussing the return to school, when we were going back, not going back, leaving everybody in limbo,” Bowden said during the special-called meeting. “I don’t want to put our community through that again.”

Bowden and his fellow newcomers to the school board, Sandy Ellington-Graves and Donna Westbrooks, were elected in November and, like Bowden, campaigned on returning to in-person instruction in ABSS schools. All three newcomers had hoped to reopen schools around January 2021. ABSS schools ultimately reopened in March, following a nearly yearlong statewide school shutdown and months of technical hiccups and complaints from parents.

This week, the three newest school board members pressed to give ABSS parents the option of deciding whether their children should wear masks at all times inside their schools and on school buses when the new school year starts.

School board member Tony Rose. Photo credit: Tony Crider.

School board member Ryan Bowden. Photo credit: Tony Crider.

Bowden sparred with three-term incumbent school board member Tony Rose, who urged his fellow board members this week to trust the experts, chiefly the state Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. All three agencies have issued new guidance that recommends “universal masking” in schools for everyone ages 2 and up, regardless of vaccination status, as Benson noted in explaining his recommendation Monday afternoon.

More than two dozen ABSS parents and community members attended the special-called meeting to lobby for what Ellington-Graves described as an optional mask policy for ABSS. Repeatedly throughout the meeting, many in the audience – which included Omar Lugo, an ABSS parent who serves as chairman of the county’s Republican Party – silently held handmade cardboard signs high above their heads, with messages that read, “Unmask our kids for the virus with 99.7 percent survival rate” and “Make Masks Optional.” None had signs demonstrating any level of support for universal masking in ABSS schools.

School board vice chairman Rose, chairman Allison Gant, and school board member Wayne Beam each said they find themselves on both sides of the debate over masks, partly due to conflicting news stories and research. Only school board member Patsy Simpson was solidly in favor of universal masking, later seconding Rose’s motion to accept the superintendent’s recommendation, which passed 4-3.

Bowden said he doesn’t think it’s up to school board members to dictate to parents what’s best for their children.

Rose, however, said the school board’s number one job is to set policy for parents who choose to send their children to ABSS.

“I challenge the notion that we can’t make decisions for parents. . . I think it’s a non-sequitur to say we’re not able to make those decisions for parents. We do it in literally every one of our policies. It’s just this one is very sensitive, and I understand that, but we ran for office and were elected to this to make these decisions, and we can’t abdicate every decision to every individual out there.”

– School board member Tony Rose

“I challenge the notion that we can’t make decisions for parents,” the school board’s vice chairman said Monday. “We are elected to a body that our number one job is to make policy for the school system. Our whole policy is made up of decisions that we make as a body for parents who choose to send their kids to the school system. I think it’s a non-sequitur to say we’re not able to make those decisions for parents. We do it in literally every one of our policies. It’s just this one is very sensitive, and I understand that, but we ran for office and were elected to this to make these decisions, and we can’t abdicate every decision to every individual out there.”

Rose echoed Benson’s reasoning that it makes sense to require masks, since the state isn’t providing the option for N.C. public school systems to offer remote instruction this year, as it had last year. “If a student tests positive, Rose said, “[everyone in that class] goes home for 10 days [and] gets no education for 10 days. We have to decide for our 23,000 students what is going to keep kids educated the best, and I think having kids in the classroom with masks is going to have better educational outcomes than having them spend potentially multiple times at home with 10-day absences.”

 

‘Elected to represent, not dictate’
“With all due respect Mr. Rose, we were elected to represent and not dictate,” Bowden countered, drawing a brief applause from parents and community members who attended the special-called meeting. “I was elected to represent everybody out there, whether you’re for or against,” he said, in pressing for a vote on whether ABSS will require students to wear masks when school begins.

“With all due respect Mr. Rose, we were elected to represent and not dictate.”

– school board member ryan bowden

“Using the word dictate is not really appropriate,” Rose shot back. “Making a policy and making a decision as an elected board is not a dictate.”

“Using the word ‘dictate is’ not really appropriate. Making a policy and making a decision as an elected board is not a dictate.”

– School board member tony rose

While Gant floated a possible compromise that would’ve required masks in high-traffic areas while making them optional inside classrooms, other board members said that could be confusing and hard to manage. No vote was taken on that, though board members agreed by consensus this week to revisit the universal masking policy later this fall.

Meanwhile, the CDC has backtracked on its earlier conclusion that fully-vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in public. The agency is now advising everyone to wear masks while in public in areas that are identified as “hotspots,” which the CDC describes as having a moderate, substantial, or high risk for transmission of the virus, based on the number of Covid-19 cases and vaccination rates. The CDC is also recommending universal indoor masking in K-12 schools for everyone age 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status.

As of 8:00 p.m. Monday, 82 counties in North Carolina, including Alamance, were identified as “high risk” for transmission. Approximately 14 N.C. counties, mostly in the easternmost and westernmost parts of the state, were identified as being at “substantial risk”; and four counties (Bertie, Hertford, Hyde, and Warren) were identified as having a “moderate” risk for transmission, according to the latest data that the CDC has posted on its “Covid-19 integrated county view” online dashboard.

The recommendation that school board members voted 4-3 to accept Monday afternoon means that staff, students, and visitors will be required to wear masks at all times inside schools and on school buses, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated against Covid-19.


See other coverage on the discussion and vote on the mask requirement for the start of the 2021-2022 school year: https://alamancenews.com/breaking-mon-divided-school-board-decides-on-mask-mandate-for-new-school-year/

Must Read

ACC breaks ground on $6.7M student services center

Alamance Community College’s trustees held a groundbreaking ceremony Friday to kick off construction of the $6.7 million student services center that will be built...