New Hanover County Board of Education votes to reinstate mask mandate

New Hanover County Schools votes to reinstate mask mandate
Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 8:31 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Board of Education voted to reinstate the mask mandate, effective Thursday, January 6, at a board meeting Tuesday evening.

The vote passed 5:2 with Nelson Beaulieu and Pete Wildeboer casting the dissenting events.

The mask mandate will apply to all students, staff, faculty and volunteers in all Pre-K - 12 schools indoors and at all school-related events, except for athletes actively participating in sports. Spectators and visitors to sporting events must abide by the New Hanover County School mandate.

The mandate will be revisited at the next monthly meeting.

During the discussion, one audience member was disruptive and asked to leave.

Prior to the decision, the board heard COVID updates from the New Hanover County Department of Health and Human Services (NHCDHHS).

NHCDHHS assistant health director Carla Turner said the COVID positivity rate is 29 percent currently and community transmission rate is high.

December daily rates fluctuated but positivity rates are tracked over a 14-day average. Currently, there is no data for school-age children because of the holidays.

Before the holidays, 41 positive COVID cases in schools resulted in 100 students being quarantined.

Health Director David Howard said omicron is the dominant variant in New Hanover County’s COVID-19 case counts and recent hospitalization rates are better than during the last surge.

Tuesday night’s decision is a reversal of the decision to make masks optional just before the holidays.

Board members Hugh McManus and Stephanie Kraybill reversed the decision they made in December. McManus was concerned about keeping students in school because more students have to quarantine if masks are not worn.

“If a mask mandate keeps them in school...we need to be proactive,” said McManus. “Our kids need to be in school.”

Kraybill flipped sides after hearing an alarming update from local health officials.

“When we go from 5 % to 20 %, that’s significant. I really just want to protect kids’ classroom time and teachers being in the classroom to teach those kids, and that is the main reason I’m doing it,” Kraybill said.

Before voting to make masks mandatory again Pete Wildeboer made a motion to move the mask vote to after the New Hanover County Health Board meets in two weeks, and then go off of their decision to decide what’s best for New Hanover County Schools.

Wildeboer noted a few additional reasons as to why he is opposed to making masks mandatory in schools. “As a former elementary principal, I know how much damage it does when you can’t see your teachers mouth and see how to form letters, I think that’s a huge part of it,” Wildeboer said. “Even last month, the Health Department agreed with me that at best it’s 20% effective, but if we’re talking about N95 masks that’s a different story. That’s why I was pushing throughout, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right with N95 masks.”

Wildeboer ended the interview by saying “to me there is nothing more important than the students and keeping them safe.’

In December, the board decided in a 4-3 vote on Dec. 7, 2021 that masks would not be required for students. Board members Stefanie Adams, Judy Justice and Stephanie Walker cast the dissenting votes.

Hugh McManus, who voted for making masks optional, mentioned in the December meeting that the board of education had tied themselves to the New Hanover County Health and Human Services (NHCHHS). However, the NHC Health and Human Services Board won’t be meeting until Jan. 18, and there have been no changes to the mask policy at the time of writing.

The agenda can be viewed here, and the meeting will be streamed live on the NHCS YouTube channel.

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