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Pender Co. Board of Education votes to make masking optional starting Oct. 4

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 10:55 AM EDT
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PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The Pender County Board of Education unanimously passed a motion Tuesday to make wearing masks optional in its schools starting Oct. 4.

Students still will be required to wear masks on school buses per an order by the CDC.

The health department director briefed board members during the Tuesday morning meeting, explaining the county has a high positivity rate for COVID-19 and the 0- 17 age group accounts for the most cases in the county. Moser says the majority of the cases they’ve seen among children in the county have been due to community spread or after school activities.

After the update from public health, the board ultimately agreed to allow parents to choose whether or not their child will wear a mask at school.

“The school board, of course, their role is to make decisions for the county school system, the health department role is to provide them with the information, the data that we follow, the trends that we see in the community, and let them make their own informed decision,” said Moser Tuesday afternoon.

Board members floated the idea of adding a contingency to the mask optional motion that would reverse course back to a mask mandate if the COVID-19 case numbers rose too dramatically, but leaders ultimately decided against adding case number parameters, and agreed that they could call a meeting to change the policy in the future if case numbers spiked within the schools.

A handful of parents in favor of the optional masking rules held signs outside the meeting Tuesday morning and were pleased with the board’s decision.

“I will be very happy if it happens… back in July they promised to vote one time, one time only, to make masks optional only to come back and vote on Saturday 35 hours before the first day of school to reverse their decision, so I’m praying that they keep this decision to allow parent choice,” said mother Heather Allen.

The board also unanimously approved a measure stating official isolation and quarantine orders will only come from the health department from here on out.

Previously school staff and nurses were telling students who were exposed they must quarantine and isolate.

Board members explained Tuesday morning that they were changing their policy to better align with the law and create more consistency.

The health department director, however, explains the policy is really more of a change of language than anything else.

Schools will now issue “exclusion orders” if a child is sick or exposed, and school nurses will still be doing much of the same work as before.

“The schools will still do all the things they have been doing, they will identify a child that was a case or a contact to the case, they will still notify the parents that their child has been exposed to someone with COVID, they will still ask parents to come and pick up their children and they’ll have to tell them that their children can’t return to school until certain requirements have been achieved like a negative COVID test, being out seven to ten days, an alternate diagnosis, then it will come to the health department,” said Moser.

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