By Richard Sullins | firstname.lastname@example.org
For 200 days, Lee County students, teachers, staff, and visitors have been required to wear face coverings whenever they were present on one of the district’s school campuses. That requirement will come to an end on Monday, February 21, following a vote by the county’s school board Thursday afternoon to make masking voluntary again.
The vote was unanimous, with all members of the board voting in favor of the policy change that was recommended by district Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan.
Even so, the 12-minute meeting wasn’t without controversy.
Republican Board member Sherry Lynn Womack questioned the motives of other members who wanted to lift the mandate. Womack, who has consistently voted against requiring masks in schools, sought to put those who have supported masking in the hot seat.
“What has changed since our last meeting? The entire state is still (high transmission),” she said. “This is nothing but a purely political move. You are falling all over each other to make a motion to end this.”
Democratic member Pat McCracken offered a motion to make masking optional starting Monday, which wasn’t soon enough for Womack.
“What’s the difference if we take these masks off today, go to masks optional now? When will we as a board say that now is the right time to say we go maskless? What has changed?” she asked.
Board Chair Sandra Bowen, a Republican, responded that the change in the state’s toolkit starting Monday is the policy shift that allows the masking requirement to be safely dropped.
But Womack kept pushing.
“That makes no sense,” she said. “Why do they keep putting the responsibility onto local school boards, but we never make that change?”
Bowen brought an end to Womack’s charges, saying, “you are in favor of the motion. Is there anyone against it?”
When no one spoke up, the vote was taken, and the meeting came to an end.
Thursday’s vote followed changes made last week in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit issued by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, a document that governs the ways in which the state’s 115 public school districts are to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Those changes go into effect on February 21.
Some restrictions will continue, however. Students and staff who test positive for the virus are recommended to be excluded from school for 10 days. If they choose to return early after just five days, they must wear a mask for the remaining five day period. Also, the federal Department of Transportation requirements that mandate the wearing of masks on school buses are still in effect and not impacted by the school board’s decision.
There hasn’t been a statewide mask mandate since the summer of 2021. Lee County’s school board met earlier this month and made no changes at that time to its policy of requiring masks given the county’s continuing high level of transmission. The mandate had been in place since being adopted by the board during the height of the Delta variant surge in August.
The board began to lay out a roadmap for ending the masking requirement in November when Democratic member Patrick Kelly offered a motion to leave the August masking mandate in place until 10 consecutive calendar days of “moderate” transmission had been recorded in the county.
Since students returned to school in August, 1,370 students and 323 staff members have tested positive for the virus. Because of potential exposure, another 2,339 students and 91 staff members have been excluded from classes so far this year.
Lee County has reported 391 cases and three deaths from the virus over the last 14 days. The percentage of cases coming back from laboratories with a positive result during that same period is 20.1 percent, lower than Harnett and Moore counties but still higher than Chatham County.
The change in the masking policy comes even though each of the state’s 100 counties, including Lee, remains in a state of high transmission of the COVID virus and goes against recommendations made by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A small group of activists, some from out of county and others seeking election to the school board, has been coming to the Lee County Board of Education monthly meetings since August, seeking a repeal of the masking mandate. In recent days, several neighboring counties have dropped their requirements.
Also on Thursday, Governor Roy Cooper called on cities and school boards to end their mask mandates, saying that the increased availability of vaccinations and the decline of the Omicron variant have made it possible to put away the masks, at least for the moment.
“In the early months where there was almost no PPE or testing and precious little vaccine or effective treatment, we put protections in place like mandatory masking and gathering limits that no doubt saved lives,” Cooper said. “This variant is clearly more contagious, yet generally causes less severe illness, particularly to people who are vaccinated and boosted, and now people know how to gauge their level of risk and decide how to best protect themselves.”
The state legislature approved a measure this week that will allow parents, rather than boards of education, to determine the conditions under which children wear masks in schools. Cooper is expected to sign the measure into law.
Almost half of North Carolina’s school districts have now done away with their requirements for masking students after state health officials eased COVID testing protocols in schools through changes in the toolkit.
I’m not sure about any other Lee County resident but I am certainly tired of hearing of any comment from either of the Womack’s about anything related to the school board or any other topic for that matter. When all you do is complain to incite a riot over every agenda you are in favor of or oppose, it begins to be a bit ridiculous.
Everyone finally agreed with a topic that you have been promoting for months yet you are still fishing for some sort of argumentative banter from a party of your peers. I honestly hope that Lee County residents wise up and realize that anything that involves one of you two Womack’s (Jim and Sherry Lynn) speaking is a rabbit hole that will likely end in disaster and filled with a trail of drama.
In a couple of years the child-maskers will have no defense beyond “everybody was doing it” and “we didn’t know any better.” Neither is true.
Couldn’t agree more…
I agree, it seems the Womacks love attention any way they get it !
Love her or hate her, Sherry Womack asked valid questions. What has changed? Nothing except what is politically acceptable. I hope Lee County residents realize that the whole masking issue has never been about the safety of students and faculty. It has been a political decision the whole time and is only being changed now because it is politically acceptable. The Lee County government has actually done nothing to improve health conditions is the public buildings, including schools, and has squandered federal funds that were allocated to be used to make improvements that would mitigate the risk of spreading the virus. Not one thing has been done except virtue signaling about vaccines and masks.
Actually if you have taken the time to read the Strong schools tool kit it truly has been about keeping the children in schools. Mask required schools children do not have to be sent home if in close contact. The tool kit was changed and goes into effect 2/21 surprisingly the same day the mask mandate becomes optional.
Actually if you have taken the time to read ANY data on masks you would know that they have never been an effective means of minimizing the spread. This is the reason why NC and many other states are changing their position on masks because it has been nonsensical from the start. As I have said many times before. Not one thing has been done to actually mitigate any risk of spread. Vaccines don’t stop it, masks don’t stop it, social distancing minimal impact, so what has the county done to make things safer? NOTHING! Except spending millions in bonuses for the school employees, people who have suffered no negative economic impacts as a result of COVID. Spin it how you want, the facts are the facts and nothing has changed except the political winds and Democrats know that there is no chance of winning elections at any level if they continue to keep these policies in place. They are hoping that we will forget and give them credit for saving the world. Hopefully the voters prove them wrong and hold every elected official accountable for the nonsense that they have put their constitute to through.
Ok well my post was nothing about politics and all about the guidance and kids. But of course this pandemic has made everyone lose their minds if you don’t agree with them so. Have a great day!