The Yadkin County School Board voted on Monday to make mask wearing optional for all students and staff when school begins on Aug. 16 for the 2021-22 school year. Mask wearing will also be optional on the buses, despite a recommendation from school leadership to require masks on the buses where social distancing is not possible.
Several parents spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting encouraging the board to pursue a mask-optional policy.
“I want the students safe but not at the expense of our kid’s education,” said Lynn Wagner. Wagner said the focus on masking and social distancing measures last year was a detriment to the education process.
“Their learning was totally comprised,” she said.
“Let the parents decide what is best for their child,” she added.
Other speakers echoed similiar sentiments, also claiming the masks gave their children headaches and acne problems.
School Board members also weighed in that they believed masks should be up the parents to decide if their child was to wear one at school or not.
“Children need to go back to normal as much as we can this year. Let them live. Let the stands be full for the ball games and roll on,” said School Board Member Sam Crews.
A mask optional policy will mean that if a student tests positive for COVID-19, other unmasked students sitting near that child in a classroom or on the bus will be required to quarantine for 10 days.
“Parents need to understand that, if you send your kid to school with a mask on there is less risk of being quarantined for 10 days,” said Superintendent Dr. Todd Martin.
The school system will still keep students distanced by 3-feet whenever possible but temperature checks will no longer be required as students enter school for the day. It was noted that the temperature checks were time consuming and did little to determine possible illness before students entered the buildings.
There was a lengthy discussion among board members about mask wearing on the buses, with Crews being particularly concerned with possible spread of COVID-19 among student athletes.
Crews, at one point in the discussion, suggested that athletes traveling to and from games be required to wear masks on the bus.
Kristi Gaddis, executive director of student support services, explained that a positive case contact traced to a bus would likely mean at least eight students in the surrounding seats would have to be quarantined.
“If that person in that (bus) seat, no one around them had masks on and those eight people have to quarantine and they’re eight important players on that football team… I don’t want to see that happen to Starmount or Forbush,” Crews said.
During the meeting Yadkin County Human Services Director Jessica Wall gave a brief update on current numbers of COVID-19 in the County, indicating that there was significant community spread and an increase in cases among younger people. Wall said of the most recent 130 cases of COVID-19, 24 of those were among children ages four to 17.
Wall also said that new data shows that the Delta Variant is becoming the predominant strain and that it contains a higher viral load. Wall said data reflects that older versions of the virus were capable of infecting one to two people at a time while the Delta Varient can infect up to six people. She said often entire households are coming down with the virus at the same time.
“We are seeing a rapid increase in community spread which is going to cause this rapid increase in case count. We’re seeing a spike, that appears to be what the data says. From a healthcare perspective the concern is that we have a large number of people moderately ill at one time,” said Wall. “We’re attempting to decrease spread of virus to protect health care infrastructure.”
Near the end of the discussion on the mask policy, Martin noted that the increasing case counts could cause problems and the board may have to revise its mask-optional policy.
“If this decision blows up and we’re quarantining classroom after classroom and closing schools and things like that then we may have to look at this whole thing differently,” Martin said.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @news_shewrote.